The version of the defense spending bill that the House of Representatives passed on Tuesday includes a provision that prevents military personnel who lose their jobs for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine from getting discharged under less than the general designation.
Lawmakers voted 363-70 to pass the National Defense Authorization Act hours after the leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services committees announced they had reached an agreement to move along the $768 billion measure.
HOUSE PASSES $768 BILLION DEFENSE BILL
The text of the bill includes a provision that reads, "Any administrative discharge of a covered member, on the sole basis that the covered member failed to obey a lawful order to receive a vaccine for COVID–19, shall be an honorable discharge or a general discharge under honorable conditions."
Rep. Mark Green, a veteran from Tennessee, was one of the big advocates of this amendment.
“I’m also proud to have successfully fought to have my amendment banning dishonorable discharges for service members who refuse to take the COVID-19 vaccine included in the legislation," he said in a statement.
"While I’m disappointed that my amendment was changed from only permitting an 'honorable discharge' to permitting either an 'honorable discharge' or a 'general discharge under honorable conditions,' this legislation is still a big leap in the right direction. We must always stand for our brave men and women in uniform all around this world," Green said.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin mandated every member of the armed forces receive the COVID-19 vaccine back in August, and he allowed each service branch to determine on their own how they would enforce the order. To date, each branch except the Army has reached the deadline for active-duty personnel to be vaccinated, and an overwhelming majority have complied.
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Ninety-two percent of active-duty Marines and 96.3% of active-duty sailors were fully vaccinated by the time of their Dec. 2 deadline, and 95.9% of active-duty airmen were fully inoculated by their Nov. 2 deadline. Any member could apply for a religious or medical exemption, though none of the former have been granted to date.
While the vaccination rate is high, the sheer size of the military means that there are thousands of unvaccinated troops, many of whom are waiting for their exemption requests to be approved or denied, who could be separated from the military.