News Branch Army

Amid recruiting woes, Army sent letters to soldiers separated for vaccine refusal

The Army separated 1,903 active duty soldiers for COVID-19 vaccine refusal. Letters were sent to approximatel 1,900.
Patty Nieberg Avatar
covid-19 army soldier
Cpt. Chiara Botello from 3rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division receives the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at the Conroy Bowl on Schofield Barracks, Hawaii on Jan. 14, 2021. (1st Lt. Angelo Mejia/U.S. Army)

Soldiers who were forced out of the Army for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine have received letters with instructions on how to rejoin, as the service faces its toughest recruiting environment in a generation.

“As a result of the rescission of all current COVID-19 vaccination requirements, former soldiers who were involuntarily separated for their refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccination may request a correction of their military records,” according to a letter signed by Brig. Gen. Hope Rampy, Army Director of Personnel Management.

It also instructs soldiers looking to return to service to contact an Army, Army Reserve, or National Guard recruiter. It was not immediately clear to an Army spokesperson if soldiers who rejoin would return to their former unit or MOS. 

The letter, circulated on social media and confirmed by the Army as authentic to Task & Purpose outlines the steps soldiers can take to correct their military records through the Army Discharge Review Board or the Army Board for Correction of Military Records.

In October, CNN reported that only 43 of over 8,000 troops across the entire military had been discharged for refusing the vaccine and showed interest in rejoining. As of September, 19 soldiers returned to active duty, according to the Army.

The letter comes as the Army is dealing with a recruitment crisis. The service missed its recruiting goals for this past year by nearly 15,000 soldiers. A lack of interest from Gen Z to join the military, with many citing factors as broad as the economy and job market to factors as specific as the service’s struggles with sexual assault and suicide in the ranks.

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The Army has turned to offering sign-on benefits like bonuses and soldiers’ choice of first duty station. They’ve also upped their advertisement spending to reach various demographics. 

The Army separated 1,903 active duty soldiers for refusing the COVID-19 vaccination during the nearly year and a half it was mandatory, the service said. Letters were sent to approximately 1,900 troops, according to an Army spokesperson.

“This was specifically as part of the COVID mandate recession process,” said Army spokesperson Bryce Dubee, referring to policy that was passed in last year’s annual defense policy bill.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memo on Aug. 24, 2021, mandating the services to vaccinate troops against COVID-19. Though the vast majority of soldiers complied, thousands did not, with many believing the vaccines were developed too quickly or were unsafe

A slew of servicemembers unsuccessfully sought religious exemptions from the vaccine, including 8,945 soldiers, 10,800 airmen and guardians, 4,172 sailors, and 3,717 Marines.

The 2023 National Defense Authorization Act mandated the defense secretary to rescind the COVID-19 vaccination mandate and on Dec. 29, 2022, the Army directed commanders to suspend separation actions for soldiers who refused the vaccine. On Jan. 10, 2023, the defense secretary officially rescinded the requirement.

Earlier this year the Defense Department suggested that 8,400 servicemembers separated for vaccine refusal might be eligible for backpay, but officials walked back that statement in January.

The coronavirus pandemic wasn’t the first time that the military mandated vaccines. In the 1990s, former President Bill Clinton mandated that troops receive the anthrax vaccine, leading to similar lawsuits and complaints about adverse side effects. Some troops continued work, others were penalized with nonjudicial punishments, lost ranks and pay, or received dishonorable discharges.

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