Senate passes 2023 NDAA with provision to repeal COVID vaccine mandate for military service members

It was in August 2021 that Defense Sec. Lloyd Austin, backed by President Joe Biden, issued a memo that added the COVID-19 vaccine to the schedule of mandatory immunizations for all U.S. military service members, whether on active duty, in the Reserves, or in the National Guard.

That vaccine mandate will soon end, though, due to a provision to repeal it that was included in the just-passed military funding bill for next year, Breitbart reported.

Military COVID vaccine mandate soon repealed

By an overwhelmingly bipartisan margin of 83-11, with six members not voting, the Senate on Thursday approved the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act measure to keep the military funded for another year.

The 2023 NDAA had already cleared the Democratic-controlled House last week, even though it included the predominately Republican-supported provision that repealed the largely Democrat-supported COVID-19 vaccine mandate imposed by Sec. Austin last year.

Now, it is up to President Biden to sign that bill into law, and though he recently expressed his continued support for mandatory COVID vaccinations for military service members, according to Fox News, it nonetheless seems unlikely that he will veto the crucially important NDAA for 2023.

Still some work to be done

To be sure, the imminent end of the military’s COVID vaccine mandate is a cause for celebration for those who staunchly opposed it, such as Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). After the vote was finalized, Blackburn tweeted, “It’s official — the FY2023 National Defense Authorization Act has passed the Senate with my measure to repeal Biden’s military COVID vaccine mandate.”

That said, simply ending the mandate now is not quite enough for some Republicans, as there remain ongoing efforts by some to try and right any wrongs done to service members who’d been punished or discharged for seeking exemptions from the mandate or flat-out refusing to receive the mandatory shot.

Breitbart reported that Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL), as part of a broad statement about the passage of the NDAA, said, “While I’m glad this NDAA rescinds the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, I will continue to fight so that every service member who was wrongfully discharged has the opportunity to be reinstated with backpay.”

Indeed, Sen. Scott also sent a letter on Friday to Sec. Austin, joined by 10 of his Senate GOP colleagues, that called on the Pentagon to immediately “freeze” all COVID vaccine-related discharges currently in progress and swiftly work to establish a process for the reinstatement of all service members previously discharged over the vaccine mandate “with back pay and full benefits.”

“Thousands of brave men and women were harmed because of the Pentagon’s misguided approach to the COVID-19 vaccine requirement,” Scott wrote in the letter to Austin. “You have the opportunity to immediately begin undoing the harm caused. For the current and future morale and benefit of our Armed Forces, we urge you to act immediately.”

The AMERICANS Act

Likewise, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who was not in Washington D.C. and was unable to vote on the NDAA or any last-minute amendments, vowed through a spokesperson to soon reintroduce a bill that would provide for the reinstatement of service members discharged solely for violation of the vaccine mandate.

Cruz’s proposed bill, dubbed the Allowing Military Exemptions, Recognizing Individual Concerns About New Shots Act of 2022, or AMERICANS Act, would prohibit the military from taking “any adverse action” against service members solely for refusing to receive the COVID vaccine.

Further, it would allow for adjustment of the status of discharged members to be an “honorable discharge,” the reinstatement of members at their prior rank and pay, include the period of discharge in a member’s accrued service time, and expunge from their records any reference to a vaccine-related discipline.

On top of that, it would also compel the Defense Department to make available exemptions from vaccine mandates for members with natural immunity from prior infections or who object on religious or conscientious grounds.

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