The U.S. Department of Defense has ended its coronavirus vaccine mandate for the U.S. Military after House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) forced an end to the program last month when the the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the annual defense policy bill, was passed.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin wrote in a memo on Tuesday that he has rescinded the vaccine mandate for the U.S. Military and the National Guard.
“No individuals currently serving in the Armed Forces shall be separated solely on the basis of their refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccination if they sought an accommodation on religious, administrative, or medical grounds,” the memo said. “The Military Departments will update the records of such individuals to remove any adverse actions solely associated with denials of such requests, including letters of reprimand.”
“The Secretaries of the Military Departments will further cease any ongoing reviews of current Service member religious, administrative, or medical accommodation requests solely for exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine or appeals of denials of such requests,” the memo continued. “Religious liberty is a foundational principle of enduring importance in America, enshrined in our Constitution and other sources of Federal law. Service members have the right to observe the tenets of their religion or to observe no religion at all, as provided in applicable Federal law and Departmental policy.”
Austin said that Service members who were discharged over their refusal to take the vaccine can petition their Military Department’s Discharge Review Boards and Boards for Correction of Military or Naval Records to request a correction to the characterization of their discharge.
McCarthy, while serving as House Minority Leader, forced an end to the vaccine mandate last month after he said that the NDAA would “not move” unless the mandate was removed from the bill.
“The end of President Biden’s military COVID vaccine mandate is a victory for our military and for common sense,” McCarthy said in a statement last month. “Last week, I told the president directly: it’s time to end the COVID vaccine mandate and rehire our service members.”
“Unfortunately, the mandate has already had negative consequences for our military: The Army and Navy missed their 2022 recruitment goals by thousands of service members,” the statement continued. “And, at the direction of the Biden administration, the Defense Department discharged 3,300 Marines, 1,800 soldiers, 1,800 sailors, and 900 airmen simply based on their personal decision to not take the COVID vaccine.”
McCarthy also demanded that the administration “correct service records and not stand in the way of re- enlisting any service member discharged simply for not taking the COVID vaccine.”
This report has been updated to include additional information.