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Military readiness will continue to ‘bleed and decay,’ say unjustly fired service members


Military readiness will continue to ‘bleed and decay,’ say unjustly fired service members

Current and former U.S. service members tell that Republicans’ proposed amendments in next year’s defense spending bill may not be comprehensive enough to undo the ‘serious harassment’ they endured by the Biden administration’s strict COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Over 8,000 service members – many who sought religious exemptions – were fired for refusing to comply with the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate enacted in August 2021. Following outrage, the Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) terminated the mandate, but it did not reinstate service members who were fired for not receiving the shot nor provide any other compensation.

Now, new amendments by Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind., that passed out of the House Armed Services Committee last week would ‘offer redress’ to service members who were ‘unjustly discharged’ by requiring the Pentagon to set up a reinstatement process and ensuring no negative retaliation. 

However, current and former troops are saying that the amendments that would go into the FY 2024 NDAA are not strong enough to undo the ‘serious harassment’ they endured over the last two years. 

The Pentagon, with the support of military leaders and U.S. President Joe Biden, mandated COVID-19 vaccination for all military service members

‘I’m happy Congress is pushing to reinstitute service members back into the force, however it is not enough,’ said John Frankman, a U.S. Army Captain, who is set to be formally expelled from the military on July 1. 

Frankman, who was in the Special Forces as part of the Green Berets, said that the ‘missed career opportunities’ he endured over the last two years could never be undone by any action of Congress.

He said even before the mandate, 10 out of the 12 of his team opted not to receive the vaccine when he served as a Special Forces Detachment Commander and a key training was taken away from them. 

When the vaccine mandate went into effect in August 2021, he submitted a religious accommodation request, but the Army did not respond for over a full year.

During that time, he and other unvaccinated special forces could not deploy, go on temporary duty assignment (TDY), or permanent change of station (PCS). 

‘Because of this, my team time was shortened and I could not attend any career enhancing schools,’ he detailed to He called his ‘biggest setback’ not being able to go to grad school.

‘Even when the mandate was rescinded, I called USMA and Human Resource Command, but was unable to make up these losses,’ he continued.

‘These measures are good, but not enough. They only cover those who were kicked out, but don’t discuss the hardship faced by those who never left but were intentionally kept in limbo,’ Frankman told 

‘The amendments won’t make up for the lost career opportunities’ that many troops endured, including not being able to deploy or get necessary training to rise in the military’s ranks. 

‘They also will not make up for the negative stigma that many in the military, especially their leadership, may have for them for not complying to a rule they so vehemently pushed,’ he continued.

‘It is also not a strong enough incentive to bring folks back in after having been separated. Many have faced some serious harassment.’

Another fired service member told that ‘accountability is necessary to restore trust.’

‘Until trust is restored military readiness will continue to bleed and decay,’ he went on.

In addition, service members have told that the military is making it extremely difficult for fired troops to re-apply through the normal process to get back their former positions due to a two-year delay in changing their discharge status from ‘general’ to ‘honorable’ in order to begin the process.

Banks’ office says their amendments require the secretary of defense to prioritize vaccine refusers’ request to have their discharge statuses changed, so that the wait period will be significantly decreased. 

Active-duty Coast Guard Lt. Chad Coppin – who is currently stationed in Juneau, Alaska – said that he is especially concerned about the USCG’s fate.

‘Unfortunate that USCG, Title 14 is not considered a ‘covered armed force’ which we should be. Rep. Banks should know that the USCG should absolutely be covered in these efforts. We were wronged just as the DoD services were, to leave the USCG out of this would be a slap in the face to us all.’

Coppin was almost kicked out of the military, but after the NDAA was signed he was able to remain on active-duty.

Banks, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Military Personnel, praised the passage of the series of amendments last week that will offer ‘redress’ for those ‘unjustly discharged.’

A spokesperson for Banks’ office said the USCG will be included in the final version of the bill through a floor amendment after it is approved by the House Rules Committee.

Because the Transportation and Infrastructure and Homeland Security Committees have jurisdiction over the Coast Guard – which is a branch under the Department of Homeland Security, not the Pentagon – the Armed Services Committee would have needed to obtain waivers to include the branch during the markup process. 

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin enacted a sweeping COVID vaccine mandate in August 2021

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin enacted a sweeping COVID vaccine mandate in August 2021

Staff Sgt. Travis Snyder, left, receives the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

Staff Sgt. Travis Snyder, left, receives the first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

Another former Coast Guardsman Christopher Collins, who served for 11.5 years before also being discharged last November, told that the amendments are a ‘bare minimum.’

‘Ignoring the fact that the USCG is not even covered under this, and by all accounts received the most abuse during the COVID ordeal, it does nothing to require the structural change needed to prevent this from happening again,’ Collins said.

‘I was personally given a 30 day notice of my discharge, robbed of leave days, not given a chance to do any transition training, and discharged while still on parental leave, with pending medical issues that have made finding work nearly impossible.’ 

First Liberty Institute, which is representing a group of Navy SEALs at the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals – the only case that is still alive in litigation since the 2023 NDAA became law – says that Congress’ efforts to remedy the issues sparked by the Biden administration is critical.

First Liberty’s Senior Counsel and Director of Military Affairs Mike Berry told the NDAA amendments are ‘necessary steps on the path to recovery.’

‘We are grateful to Congressman Banks for his continued leadership on this issue. The DOD’s Covid vaccine mandate created a harmful culture of religious hostility and left deep scars that will take years to heal,’ said Berry.

‘These NDAA amendments are necessary steps on the path to recovery. Hopefully, the Pentagon learns that it is far more important that our military faithfully follows the Constitution than to blindly follow dubious orders.’

President Biden and Sec. Lloyd Astin shake hands at the White House

President Biden and Sec. Lloyd Astin shake hands at the White House

A current active-duty Army officer told that another issue that Congress should look into is the fact the Pentagon never procured a ‘fully-licensed’ vaccine that was required by the agency in the August 2021 Sec. Lloyd Austin memo on the mandate. 

He says although he’s appreciative of Banks’ efforts, they must be broadened. 

There will not be a perfect remedy, but at the very least Congress should authorize the fired service members to have their ‘discharge characterizations upgraded, their education benefits restored, and be awarded Involuntary Separation Pay and/or be retired at their grade and years of service the exited at,’ the officer told

He said the fired troops have had ‘their lives turned upside down and were betrayed by those charged with protecting them.’ 

Finally, a formal apology from their service branches would be key to be able to have trust restored, he added.

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