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America Owes Its Troops Compensation for Unfair COVID Vaccine Mandates

Thousands of US troops were punished and denied benefits for refusing COVID vaccines

Distinguished Fellow
Members of the U.S. Army Drill Team, 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), perform in front of hundreds of spectators, during a Joint Service Drill Exhibition, April. 14, 2023 at the National Mall in Washington D.C.
Members of the US Marine Corps Drill Team perform during a Joint Service Drill Exhibition on April 14, 2023, at the National Mall in Washington DC. (DVIDS)

Every American soldier who signs up to put their lives on the line for our country deserves a debt of gratitude. Tragically, as a result of deeply unfair and political COVID-19 vaccine policies by the Biden administration, tens of thousands of our nation’s finest have been treated by our government more like adversaries than the true heroes they are. It’s time this grievous injustice was finally addressed.  

The absurdity of this political overreach into our military was clear from the start. In August 2021, Secretary Lloyd Austin announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate that directed soldiers to receive only fully FDA-licensed vaccines. This was more about virtue signaling than substance. At that time and for nearly a year after the order was issued, the Department of Defense did not even have any fully FDA-licensed vaccines.  

As a result, thousands of service members – who wanted nothing more than to serve the country – were punished for being unvaccinated even if it was impossible for them to comply with the order. Many were devout Christians who had simply requested reasonable accommodation for their sincerely held beliefs. 

Without any form of due process, troops were discharged with severe misconduct codes that prevent reenlistment and denial of veterans and retirement benefits. To add insult to injury, those who were discharged were told they were now in debt for reenlistment, service academy tuition, or GI Bill benefits that can amount to tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars. 

Even many troops who were not discharged faced other profound consequences, such as cancelation of school and training, negative fitness reports, denial of promotions, denial of pay and involuntary transfer to inactive status.  

Other horror stories included soldiers denied requests to see dying family members because of restrictions suddenly placed on leave, troops serving abroad whose families were rendered homeless after being evicted from housing and denial of medical care for injuries.  

Long after President Joe Biden publicly declared "the pandemic is over," soldiers continued to have their lives ruined by this policy. And even after the Department of Defense finally ended its COVID-19 vaccine mandate in 2023, the damage from this outrageous and ill-conceived policy did not end there. Tens of thousands of healthy soldiers remained kicked out of the military. 

In addition to the basic unfairness, the vaccine mandate has been costly and reckless for our national security. At a time of two major wars abroad and the threat of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, the last thing we should do is expel patriotic and capable service members because of politics. 

Our military is already facing a recruiting and readiness crisis and the vaccine mandate only created a new self-imposed one, threatening our national security and the viability of the all-volunteer force. 

It would be impossible to fully correct these mistakes because the costs are immeasurable and incalculable. These soldiers and their families will never fully regain their pride in being able to serve their country and their years that were supposed to be devoted to that cause.  

However, we can – at least – try to send a message to future generations who seek to serve that this will not happen again. We must make it clear to them that their country recognizes this mistake and will not cast them aside like others have been. Compensating servicemembers for lost back pay would be a good first step, but that must only be the start of a comprehensive solution.  

Politicians in Washington love to talk about how much they support the troops, but rhetoric that’s not backed by action is just words. I urge our leaders in Washington to actually show they support our brave troops by beginning to make this right.

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