Congress Acts to Ensure Honorable Discharges For Vaccine Refusal

The Senate has passed the FY2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) including an amendment that would prohibit any discharge but an Honorable one for service members who choose not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Various members of the House and Senate are all claiming credit for introducing and voting for the amendment to the two-thousand-plus pages of the Defense Bill, among them is Congressman Mark Green(R-Tennessee). Congressman Green is a West Point graduate and a U.S. Army combat veteran.

As read from the amendment; ‘‘Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a member of the armed forces subject to discharge on the basis of the member choosing not to receive the COVID–19 vaccine may only receive an honorable discharge.’’

This amendment had been strongly opposed by the Biden Administration. A statement by The Office of Management and Budget in August stated that the administration “strongly opposes” the amendment, and if implemented would, “detract from readiness and limit a commander’s options for enforcing good order and discipline when a Service member fails to obey a lawful order to receive a vaccination.”

While the worst discharges characterized as Bad Conduct or Dishonorable can only be handed down as a result of a court martial proceeding, it is at the commanding officer’s discretion to recommend a court martial for refusing to obey a direct order. In a political climate where the administration seems determined to see punitive action of some kind for those refusing to be vaccinated, turning such refusals over to the military courts for adjudication elevates it to a felony act that could include fines and prison time along with a Dishonorable or Bad Conduct Discharge.