Troops who deny COVID vax will not receive veteran benefits, officials warn

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Troops who refuse the coronavirus vaccine will see no additional protection or leniency in the way their layoffs are handled, Defense and Veterans Affairs officials confirmed on Wednesday.

Instead, decisions to grant these individuals non-honorable releases – potentially blocking them from a host of veteran benefits – will be left to the local commanders, and their cases will not receive any preferential assessment for the sake of it. eligibility for veteran benefits, despite recent lobbying by Republican lawmakers for a less punitive approach.

“We see the vaccine as a preparation issue,” said Gil Cisneros, Department of Defense undersecretary for personnel, during testimony before the Senate Veterans Committee. “Any discharge decision is up to the individual service as to how it proceeds. “

Earlier Wednesday, Air Force and Space Force officials announced that about 8,500 airmen had missed the November 2 deadline to be vaccinated against the coronavirus. This represents about 3% of the total staff of the services.

The other military services have similar deadlines in the coming weeks.

Cisneros acknowledged the concerns of a small section of the active-duty force over vaccines, but said officials firmly believe the warrant is necessary. As such, the ministry does not plan to set up any special programs or exemptions for those fired for refusing the shots.

VA Deputy Secretary Donald Remy said these cases will be assessed by departmental benefit officials to weigh “mitigating or mitigating circumstances, performance and achievements during their service, the nature of the offense and the nature of their service at the time of their dismissal “.

This is standard operation for all veterans, and the ministry has no plans to handle vaccine refusals separately or differently.

Individuals with honorable time off will be eligible for items such as GI Bill benefits, VA home loans, and transition assistance programs. People on non-honorable time off still receive mental health care services through VA, but can be blocked for most other benefits.

CPS. Victoria Yarborough, health care specialist for the Maryland Army National Guard Medical Detachment, administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a soldier Jan. 8, 2021, at Camp Fretterd Military Reservation, Reisterstown, Maryland.
US National Guard / Zuma

In September, House lawmakers approved language in their annual Defense Authorization Bill that would prevent military officials from issuing dishonorable discharges to troops who refuse vaccines, arguing that it was ‘too severe a punishment for the offense.

However, this measure has yet to survive negotiations with Senate lawmakers before it becomes law, probably at the end of December.

Conservative lawmakers have speculated that thousands of troops could be dismissed from the ranks before that date.

At least 71 soldiers have died from complications related to the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic 20 months ago. None of the soldiers who died were fully vaccinated.

Among Veterans Affairs patients, at least 16,157 have died from viral complications since March 2020.

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