Service members discharged for refusing COVID vaccine still seek remedy after measure’s defeat

Three Republican U.S. senators helped defeat an amendment to the fiscal 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would provide remedies to members of the Armed Forces who were discharged or faced adverse action under the Department of Defense COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Amendment 421, proposed by U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was defeated by a vote of 53-46 with three Republicans joining all Democrats.

U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-Louisiana, Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Mitt Romney, R-Utah, voted against providing relief to service members.

Last year, Congress passed, and President Joe Biden signed into law, the 2023 NDAA terminating the DOD COVID-19 vaccine mandate, an ultimatum Republicans made in order to pass it.

The 2023 NDAA didn’t help service members who’d already been punished, demoted and discharged after their religious accommodation request (RAR) exemptions to the mandate were denied. Those who weren’t discharged still faced “cruel and unusual punishment,” demotion and dishonorable discharge, according to attorneys with Liberty Counsel representing service members who sued over the mandate.

Members of the Coast Guard are still seeking relief in a lawsuit filed by Thomas More Society, who two years later are still being denied promotions because they wouldn’t comply. TMS Senior Counsel Steve Crampton told The Center Square, “The hypocrisy of those leading the military and the continued discrimination against those with deeply held religious beliefs is that people who want to serve their country are being railroaded out of the services.”

In a separate example, a former Marine who was discharged after his RAR was denied was charged $17,878.23 by the USMC, the remaining balance of a bonus he was given for reenlisting, and is still requiring him to repay it.

Last year, over 60,000 National Guard and Reserve soldiers were told by the U.S. Army that they’d lose pay, benefits and “adverse administrative actions, including flags, bars to service, and official reprimands,” if they didn’t comply.

Even after the mandate was rescinded, all four military branches continued to deny RARs, according to reports filed in Liberty Counsel’s case.

Cruz and U.S. Rep. Dan Bishop of Texas, R-North Carolina, who filed a similar measure in the House, sought to change that.

A similar amendment to the NDAA last year failed, also because of a vote by Cassidy. He told The Daily Signal at the time he voted against remedying adverse effects to these service members because “it is not Congress’s place to intervene in the chain of command and set a precedent for military personnel to ignore direct orders.”

After the DOD mandate was rescinded and Liberty Counsel’s case was dismissed, its founder and chairman, Mat Staver, told The Center Square the organization was urging Congress to provide relief: reinstate those who were discharged, restore their personnel records, and issue back pay among other remedies.

“How they’ve been treated by the Biden administration is shameful and appalling. And as hard as they’ve fought for us, we will continue to fight for them,” he said.

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