Pentagon Mulls Granting Back Pay to Troops Discharged for Refusing to Get Vaccinated

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

More than 8,400 U.S. servicemen and women were discharged from the military for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine. But on Tuesday, the federal government formally lifted the vaccine mandate, leaving open the question of giving justice to the troops who refused the jab.


In a memo from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, the secretary opened the door for reinstating troops who were discharged but left it up to individual commanders how or whether to deploy troops who are not vaccinated.

“The Department will continue to promote and encourage Covid-19 vaccination for all service members,” Austin said in the memo. “Vaccination enhances operational readiness and protects the force.”

About 99% of active-duty troops in the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps had gotten the vaccine, and 98% of the Army. The Guard and Reserve rates are lower but are still more than 90%.

Related: Congress Passes Record NDAA, Rescinds Troop Vax Mandate, But…

Now comes the question of back pay for those who wish to be reinstated.

“Regarding back pay, the Department is still exploring this and will provide its views on legislation of this nature at the appropriate time and through the appropriate process,” said Pentagon spokesperson Maj. Charlie Dietz in a Friday email to Politico.

Providing back pay would be a win for Republicans who railed against the vaccine mandate. Last year, a bloc of GOP senators, led by Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky, won a fight to repeal the policy after threatening to stall the annual defense policy bill if they didn’t receive a vote on ending the mandate and reinstating troops with back pay.

The measure defied the wishes of both the Pentagon and the White House, who said they wanted to retain the mandate. But while the directive was repealed, it stopped short of requiring the Pentagon to reinstate troops who were let go for refusing the shot or give them back pay.


Austin’s memo also said that for service members who sought an exemption on religious, administrative, or medical grounds, the military will remove any “adverse actions,” including letters of reprimand, stemming from their refusal.

Those who were discharged for refusing to obey a lawful order to take the vaccine received either an honorable discharge or a general discharge under honorable conditions. Austin’s memo says that anyone who was discharged can petition their military service to request a change in the “characterization of their discharge” in their personnel records. It does not, however, say what possible corrections could be awarded.

Former Vice President Mike Pence demanded Biden reinstate those who were discharged with full back pay, calling the mandate “unconscionable.”

“I think now that Secretary Austin has implemented what Congress passed into law, lifting the vaccine mandate on members of our armed forces, now I’m calling on the Biden administration and the Pentagon to reinstate every man and woman that was discharged from our armed forces because they refused to take the vaccine, and give them 100 percent back pay for the time after they were discharged,” Pence said in a statement.


You can bet that if the Biden administration refuses to give back pay to unfairly discharged troops, Republicans will raise a stink about it.



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