NORFOLK, Va. — Advocates for the 8,400 military members who got separated from service because of their refusal to get COVID-19 vaccinations say, now that the vaccine mandate has been rescinded, those troops, at the very least, should be reinstated.
"We want to see everybody getting back to the job that they were trained to do, that they're skilled to do and that this country needs them to do," said Danielle Runyan, an attorney with First Liberty Institute.
"I'm glad the mandate is being lifted. Now, I'd like to see them create an avenue for these service members to get back into the force," said Anthony Kuhn, an attorney with Tulley Rinckey.
Then, there is the question of back pay.
The Pentagon says no.
"What I would tell you is that right now, we are not currently pursuing back pay to service members who were dismissed for refusing to that the COVID vaccine," said Brigadier General Pat Ryder, Pentagon spokesman, during a news conference on Tuesday.
According to Defense Department statistics, more than 2 million military members did get their COVID-19 shots and are considered to be fully vaccinated.
Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) said the vaccine refusers knew they were disobeying what was, at the time, a lawful order.
"They were given an order. And it was a very reasonable one that virtually everybody followed and they chose not to. And they chose not to, knowing what the consequences would be," he said.
And, Kaine said the refusers should not get back pay and he does not support returning those personnel back to duty.
"I would not recommend that," he said.
Roughly 99% of all active-duty troops did receive the vaccine.
Approximately 3,500 military members who got discharged have joined a class action suit alleging they were subjected to religious discrimination.