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Proposal would ban dishonorable discharges for military members who refuse mandatory COVID vaccines

Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 9:42 PM CDT
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FORT HOOD, Texas (KWTX) - Federal lawmakers are backing legislation prohibiting dishonorable discharges for military service members who refuse to get their COVID-19 vaccine.

When a soldier leaves the service, they receive one of a number of discharges. The most likely discharges are honorable, general under honorable or other than honorable. The worst is a diss honorable discharge, given to a soldier as a result of a court-martial for things like desertion, murder and other crimes.

Army veteran Jeffry Yarvis says even with most of the military branches setting deadlines for full vaccination, he doesn’t believe such a harsh punishment would occur because a dishonorable discharge can be a devastating blow to a veteran’s career.

“I don’t think that refusing to get a vaccine would ever reach the level of a dishonorable discharge,” he said.

“There’s a stigmatizing factor in getting a dishonorable discharge. Some employers do ask, if you’ve served, what condition were you discharged under. It can make your ability to secure those benefits and employment later much more difficult, if not, impossible in some cases.”

If the bill passes, it’s unlikely to go into effect until months after all the military services enforce their COVID vaccine deadlines. Political Science Professor John Koehler adds the Biden Administration could push back against it.

“If we were to see it pass the legislature, there is a veto threat that could be made,” he said.

“Beyond that, there could be an executive order that would contradict this, and you’d have to have a judicial resolution for what the military would have to follow.”

Koehler stresses that the likelihood of the bill passing is low. Even so, Yarvis adds a service member’s best bet not to get vaccinated will be requesting a medical or religious exemption.

“I think so if they meet the criteria for the exemption,” he said.

“That’s certainly a possibility. If not, I think the leadership has a range of offers to consider about whether this person could remain in the service in another capacity.”

The legislation must now go to a vote in the full chamber, then determined in the Senate as part of next year’s defense authorization bill.

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