The Armed Forces serve as yet another battleground for countering the Biden administration’s controversial vaccine mandate. As deadlines loom for the different branches, few exemptions of any kind have been granted, and military service members face separation and other repercussions for the refusal of the vaccine.
During a Pentagon press briefing last month, the question of disparate policies for vaccine exemptions across the branches was posed to Press Secretary John Kirby. Kirby refused to address the question in a “broad brush” way, stating that “each exemption asked for particularly those of religion will most likely be case-specific, individuals specific.” He went on to say of the branches’ handling of each exemption request that “the Secretary expects that they’ll do that and do it in a compassionate way.”
Just one month prior, however, the Administration expressed strong opposition to the addition of a clause to the defense spending bill that would prohibit “Adverse Personnel Actions Taken Against Certain Members of the Armed Forces Based on Declining COVID-19 Vaccine and Expansion of Exemptions from Vaccination Requirement.”
The Navy’s apparent interpretation of “compassionate” is wanting, however. While a Navy press release stated that sailors separated from service would receive no lower than a general discharge under honorable conditions, some could face a loss of veterans’ benefits. The Navy also retains the right to “seek recoupment of applicable bonuses, special and incentive pays, and the cost of training and education for service members refusing the vaccine,” undoubtedly a sizeable amount for many sailors.
According to a Fox News report, U.S. Navy SEALs who seek religious exemptions have faced threats and harassment. Included among repercussions are demotions, pay cuts, and bans on personal and government travel. In a statement on his representation of more than 30 SEALs, Michael Berry of the First Liberty Institute said, “Remove a SEAL from special warfare, reduce his salary, and force him to repay his training is purely vindictive and punitive. And it’s illegal. They have nothing to do with a virus.”
As of November 2, the Air Force has granted zero religious exemptions, despite the 5,000 requests received. An article appearing on military.com just last week stated that the Navy had not granted any religious exemption.