WASHINGTON — Many questions remain about the fate of National Guard members who refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine, now that the vaccine mandate has been lifted.
As of last November, only 62% of National Guard soldiers and airmen were considered to be fully vaccinated. The 38% not vaccinated weren't allowed to drill.
On Tuesday, the head of the National Guard Bureau was asked how soon those personnel could be re-integrated into their units.
He didn't have many answers.
"Yeah, it'll be really dependent on the policy decisions that are made. And as I mentioned, we're in the working group, we're trying to get that... really, those policies established as soon as possible, but unfortunately, we just don't have a date right at this time," said General Dan Hokanson, during a Pentagon news conference.
Also on Tuesday, 19 Republican senators led by Ted Cruz (R-Texas) introduced a bill that would reinstate all 8,400 military members involuntarily separated from the services for refusing the vaccine.
The "Allowing Military Exemptions, Recognizing Individual Concerns About New Shots (AMERICANS)" Act of 2023 would also compensate them with benefits and back pay lost after their separation.
Specifically, the bill would:
- Prohibit the secretary of defense from issuing a replacement COVID-19 vaccine mandate without congressional approval;
- Reinstate any service members separated solely for their COVID-19 vaccine status seeking to rejoin the military;
- Credit such service members for retirement pay calculations using the time of their involuntary separations;
- Restore the rank of any service member demoted solely for their COVID-19 vaccine status;
- Compensate such service members with any benefits and pay lost to such demotions;
- Adjust all “general” discharges given to service members solely due to their COVID-19 vaccine statuses to “honorable” discharges;
- Expunge all adverse actions from service members’ records based solely on COVID-19 vaccine status, regardless of previously sought accommodations;
- Make every effort to retain service members unvaccinated against COVID-19;
- Provide service members unvaccinated against COVID-19 with professional development, promotion and leadership opportunities equal to their peers; and
- Provide a COVID-19 vaccine exemption process for service members with natural immunity, relevant underlying health conditions and sincerely-held religious beliefs against receiving vaccines.
There's no guarantee that the bill will pass in the Democrat-controlled Senate, nor if President Joseph R. Biden would sign it.