Three U.S. Air Force Academy cadets who refused to take the COVID-19 vaccine will not receive a commission as military officers when they graduate, according to the academy.
Air Force Academy spokesman Dean Miller shared the information in a statement.
Miller said that the three cadets “will not be commissioned into the United States Air Force as long as they remain unvaccinated.”
A fourth cadet was previously listed among those excluded but has since decided to be vaccinated in order to become an officer.
The Air Force is the only military academy currently refusing to commission cadets due to COVID-19 non-compliance, according to the Associated Press.
The incident is the most recent development in the ongoing controversy regarding COVID-19 vaccinations and Armed Forces personnel.
Earlier this month, Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz and 13 additional GOP senators introduced a new bill to protect military service members from punishment for declining the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Allowing Military Exemptions, Recognizing Individual Concerns About New Shots (AMERICANS) Act of 2022 is designed to counter the Biden administration’s efforts to coerce and punish Armed Forces personnel, including accountability measures to increase transparency.
Last month, defense officials told Congress that about 3,400 troops had been involuntarily separated from service for refusing the mandated vaccine, according to the Military Times.
“Of that group, about 70% have received general discharges, a designation that allows them to receive most veterans benefits and potentially rejoin the military at a later date,” the report noted. “The other 30% have received honorable discharges. Congress last year forbade military leaders from issuing dishonorable discharges for vaccine refusal.”
The Air Force Times reported that across the military, the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps had discharged close to 4,000 active duty service members for refusing the vaccine. In addition, several thousand more remain on hold pending cases related to religious exemption requests.
Colorado Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn, whose district includes the Air Force Academy, expressed his concern.
“I was extremely disappointed to hear that the United States Air Force Academy is planning to deny these four cadets the opportunity to graduate and serve our nation because of their request to uphold their tightly held religious beliefs,” Lamborn said in a statement.
“America was founded on the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, which encompasses protecting the religious rights of the individual. That includes those who put on the uniform and volunteer to serve our nation. It is imperative that our military leaders uphold the constitutional rights of these cadets,” he added.
The American Military News also noted that the cadets could be forced to pay back nearly $200,000 in government scholarship money, though the decisions in the individual cases have yet to be determined.