The U.S. Army announced Wednesday that it has started discharging soldiers who don’t comply with its COVID-19 vaccination policy.
“Army readiness depends on soldiers who are prepared to train, deploy, fight and win our nation’s wars,” Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth said in a news release.
“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 announcement is an important step in the military’s campaign against COVID-19 because the Army is the biggest branch and the last to begin vaccine discharges.
Soldiers who request an exemption will have seven days after denial of the request to begin the COVID regimen or file an appeal. The order covers Regular Army soldiers, reserve-component soldiers serving on Title 10 active-duty, and cadets.
As of Jan. 26, the Army had relieved six Army leaders, including two battalion commanders, and issued about 3,000 written reprimands to soldiers who refused the vaccine, but had not initiated involuntary separation action against any soldier, the Army said in a separate news release.
The Army said 96% of the regular Army and 79% of Army reserves were fully vaccinated. Six medical exemptions and no religious exemptions had been granted as of Jan. 26.
The Navy announced last week that it had discharged 23 active-duty sailors for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The Marine Corps has discharged 335 Marines, while the Air Force has discharged 111 airmen.
Discharged soldiers will face financial repercussions. They won’t be eligible for involuntary separation pay and “may be subject to recoupment of any unearned special or incentive pays,” the Army said. However, soldiers who complete separation or retirement before July 1, 2022, will be granted a temporary exemption.
President Biden announced in August that he was mandating the COVID vaccine for the military.