By Lolita C. Baldor
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Army said Wednesday it will immediately begin discharging soldiers who have refused to get the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine, putting more than 3,300 service members at risk of being thrown out soon.
The Army’s announcement makes it the final military service to lay out its discharge policy for vaccine refusers. The Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy have already discharged active-duty troops or entry-level personnel at boot camps for refusing the shots. So far, the Army has not discharged any.
According to data released by the Army last week, more than 3,300 soldiers have refused to get the vaccine. The Army has said that more than 3,000 soldiers have been issued official written reprimands, which suggests they are already identified in the disciplinary process, and some of them could be among the first to be discharged.
The Pentagon has ordered all service members — active-duty, National Guard and Reserves — to get the vaccine, saying it is critical to maintaining the health and readiness of the force. COVID-19 cases continue to surge around the country as a result of the omicron variant.
Roughly 97% of all Army soldiers have gotten at least one shot. More than 3,000 have requested medical or religious exemptions.
Army Secretary Christine Wormuth issued the directive Wednesday ordering commanders to begin involuntary separation proceedings against those who have refused the shots and do not have a pending or approved exemption.
“Army readiness depends on soldiers who are prepared to train, deploy, fight and win our nation’s wars,” she said. “Unvaccinated soldiers present risk to the force and jeopardize readiness. We will begin involuntary separation proceedings for Soldiers who refuse the vaccine order and are not pending a final decision on an exemption.”
The order includes active-duty soldiers, reserves serving on active duty, and cadets at the Military Academy at West Point, its prepatory school and ROTC.
The detailed order said soldiers will be discharged for misconduct, and noted that those who are eligible to retire may do so before July 1.
Overall, more than 650 Marines, airmen and sailors have been thrown out of the military or dismissed from entry-level training at boot camps, according to data released this week and last week by the services.
The military services have been going through a methodical process to deal with those who refuse the vaccine as well as those who request medical, administrative or religious exemptions. The reviews require counseling with medical personnel and chaplains as well as senior commanders.