Officials with the U.S. Army on Wednesday announced that they will “immediately” begin discharging soldiers who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19, with few exceptions.
A directive issued by Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth ordered commanders to begin discharging soldiers who haven’t gotten or who aren’t currently seeking exemptions from the vaccination order “as expeditiously as possible.” The order applies to soldiers, reserve soldiers on federal active-duty military service and cadets, officials said.
“Army readiness depends on soldiers who are prepared to train, deploy, fight and win our nation’s wars,” Wormuth said in a statement. “Unvaccinated soldiers present risk to the force and jeopardize readiness.”
Those discharged because of a refusal to the COVID-19 vaccine will not be eligible for involuntary separation pay, officials said, adding that they may have to pay back “unearned special or incentive pays.”
Soldiers who will separate or retire from the Army or begin transition leave on or before July 1 are exempt from the order. Also exempt are unvaccinated soldiers whose requests for medical or religious exemptions remain under review.
Officials said that soldiers can appeal within seven days if their requests for medical exemptions or religious accommodations are denied. If their appeals are denied, or if they decline to appeal the decisions, they will be required to begin getting vaccinated against COVID-19 within seven days, or within a timeline determined by local vaccine supplies.
As of Wednesday morning, officials said no Army soldiers had yet been discharged solely for refusing to be vaccinated against COVID-19. As of last week, six Army leaders have been relieved of their duties and more than 3,000 reprimands have been written for soldiers who have refused to be vaccinated, according to the Army.