Washington, D.C. (FOX44) – The Secretary of Defense has rescinded the August 24, 2021 mandate that members of the Armed Forces be vaccinated against COVID-19, along with the requirements for members of the National Guard and Reserve.
The rescission had been a requirement of the National Defense Authorization Act. The memorandum sent out by Secretary Austin said the Department of Defense would continue to promote and encourage COVID-19 vaccination.
The memorandum also stated that no one currently serving in the Armed Forces will be separated solely on their refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccination if they sought accommodation on religious, administrative or medical grounds. It stated that 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 various secretaries of military departments will further cease any ongoing reviews of current service member religious, administrative or medical accommodation requests for exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine or appeals or denials of such requests.
The memorandum stated that religious liberty is a foundational principal of enduring importance in America, enshrined in the Constitution and other sources of federal law – and that service members have the right to observe the tenets of their religion or to observe no religion at all.
Other standing departmental polices, procedures and processes regarding immunizations remain in effect.
For service members administratively discharged on the sole basis that the service member failed to obey a lawful order to receive a vaccine for COVID-19, the department is precluded by law from awarding anything less than a general under honorable conditions discharge. Former service members can petition their military department’s discharge review boards and boards for correction of military or naval records to individually request a correction to their personnel records – including records regarding the characterization of their discharge.