According to senior enlisted advisers who testified before Congress today, service members who were discharged from the military due to refusal of the COVID-19 vaccine, despite a denied waiver request, now have a pathway to rejoin.
Sergeant Major of the Army Michael Grinston explained that the process to rejoin would be similar to what a service member goes through after a break in service, as long as they meet the qualifications. The Army recently published its guidance, and the Marine Corps released its identical guidance today.
Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass also confirmed that the Air Force policy is similar and officials are handling requests on a case-by-case basis. While Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy James Honea did not specify if the Navy has released guidance, he noted that the process for all services will be the same based on a memorandum from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, with actions expected by late March.
Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., shared that many service members in his district express interest in returning, “One of the things I keep hearing is they want to come back,” as he noted roughly 8,000 service members had been discharged for vaccine refusal since 2020.
Former Vice President Mike Pence also commented on the situation in January 2023, saying:
“I think it was unconscionable that the Biden administration mandated the vaccine on members of the armed forces of the United States, and I celebrate Congress’s recent decision to rescind that mandate, but that doesn’t go far enough,”
“I think now that Secretary Austin has implemented what Congress passed into law, lifting the vaccine mandate on members of our armed forces, now I’m calling on the Biden administration and the Pentagon to reinstate every man and woman that was discharged from our armed forces because they refused to take the vaccine, and give them 100 percent back pay for the time after they were discharged.”