The military vaccine mandate during the COVID-19 pandemic put Soldiers in a difficult position. Many were forced to choose between their duty to their country and their personal beliefs. For some, this would mean a separation of service. But the vaccine mandate for military members is now gone. The U.S. Army is also reevaluating the status of those former Soldiers and providing paths for them to return. This all comes when getting Soldiers is proving very difficult. For many, the spurs they felt from the U.S. military may be too much to overcome.
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Does the Military Have a Vaccine Mandate?
The Army rescinded its COVID-19 vaccination requirements before the beginning of 2023. Section 525 of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act eliminated the military vaccine mandate for COVID-19. Officially, a memorandum was in place by January 10, 2023, eliminating the requirement.
Active duty Soldiers seeking COVID-19 vaccine exemptions won’t be separated, and reviews of exemption requests are done. Resolved cases are closed, and records of those seeking exemptions will be updated to remove adverse actions and associated flags.
The removal of Army travel restrictions based solely on COVID-19 vaccination status is also emphasized, with other entry requirements still in effect. Additionally, former Soldiers now have the option to petition the Army Discharge Review Board and the Army Board for Correction of Military Records for record corrections under the new law.
However, the last three years have been turbulent in the way Soldiers felt about the mandate. This is evident by a military vaccine mandate lawsuit settlement involving the U.S Department of Defense (DoD) two days following the terrorist attack by Hamas.
Fewer Soldiers in Uncertain Times
The U.S. Army sent a letter to former service members discharged for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine, allowing them to correct discharge records. This coincides with ongoing recruitment challenges amid the pandemic.
Signed by Brigadier General Hope C. Rampy, the letter informs individuals of the option to seek corrections through the Army Discharge Review Board (ADRB) or the Army Board for Correction of Military Records (ABCMR).
About 1,900 active duty Soldiers were separated for vaccine refusal. Recruitment difficulties are attributed to post-COVID labor market conditions. This, combined with waning interest among young Americans to serve, has the Army scrambling for answers.
The Army plans strategic recruitment changes to address these challenges, but the letter doesn’t explicitly request a return from former Soldiers. Still, the Army is notifying those who qualify of the opportunities to fix their separation from service and/or return to active duty.
Is the Military Vaccine Mandate Too Little, Too Late?
With the lift of the military vaccine mandate, the Army may be hopeful for Soldiers to come back. However, the initial action, or lack thereof, from former Soldiers who left due to the mandate, could be telling.
According to CNN, only 43 of the more than 8,000 U.S. service members who were discharged from the American Armed Forces for refusing to follow the military COVID-19 vaccine mandate have even tried to rejoin. This eight-month period is showing less than encouraging rates that are adding to the military’s already complex recruitment woes.
There are several guidelines and requirements for joining any military branch. Yet, virtually everyone living through COVID-19 understands that people have strong opinions about the vaccine and the government’s ability to force its citizens to participate.
As recruiting looks at past, present, and future means to attract volunteers, nothing is off limits. But just how far the Army will have to go remains to be seen.