Kimberly P. Yow

Kimberly P. Yow

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Senator presses Army over backpay, religious freedoms for soldiers discharged for COVID vaccine refusal

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Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-Mo., is pressing the U.S. Army for answers on behalf of former service members who were discharged for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine.

Nearly 2,000 service members were let go from the military after refusing to take the COVID-19 vaccine. Amid recruitment troubles in 2023, the Army recently sent a letter to the discharged soldiers, telling them they have the option to now correct their characterization of discharge and rejoin the branch. The Army has said the letters were part of a congressionally-mandated process. 

In a letter to Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth on Tuesday, Schmitt asked whether any soldiers would receive backpay if they decide to re-enlist, if they would be reinstated to their rank held before discharge, and whether the religious freedoms of service members will be protected moving forward.

“These mandates certainly harmed our military’s readiness and tragically destroyed the careers of thousands of brave volunteers,” the Republican Senator wrote in a letter obtained by Fox News Digital. “These members have faced negative implications for veterans benefits and employment outside of the military. It is likely that most of those former members will never return to the military and serve our nation.”

ARMY SENDS LETTER TO TROOPS DISMISSED FOR REFUSING COVID VACCINE AMID MILITARY’S RECRUITMENT WOES

The senator also asked whether the Army will make continuous effort to ask these particular members if they would like to rejoin the branch, after reports the Army was about 10,000 soldiers short of meeting its FY 2023 recruiting goals. In 2022, recruitments fell short by an even larger margin o 15,000.

ARMY MAKES MAJOR CHANGE TO RECRUTING BATTLE PLAN AS SHORTFALL IN NEW SOLDIERS PERSISTS

Schmitt noted the branch has missed their recruitment goals, highlighting that “8,300 men and women across the entire military were discharged solely due to COVID-19 mandates. The Army discharged 1,881 soldiers, and only granted 191 exemptions out of 10,699 requests.”

Schmitt requested a response be delivered by December 13, 2023.

Office of the Chief of Public Affairs (OCPA) at the Army told Fox News Digital they would be responding directly to the sender of the letter.

“As with all congressional correspondence, we will respond directly to the author of the letter,” Bryce S. Dubee wrote in a statement to Fox on Wednesday.

The Army also re-highlighted a previous statement sent to Fox after it was first reported that former service members received letters in the mail regarding their discharge. 

“As part of the overall COVID mandate rescission process mandated by Congress, the Army this month mailed the letters to approximately 1,900 individuals who had previously been separated. The letter provides information to former servicemembers on how to request a correction of their military records,” they wrote.

According to Task and Purpose, thousands of troops unsuccessfully sought religious exemptions from the vaccination, including 8,945 soldiers, 10,800 airmen and guardians, 4,172 sailors, and 3,717 Marines.

The initial military letter provided forms for service members who were “involuntary separated for refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccination” to request “a correction to military personnel records, including regarding the characterization of discharge.” 

The letter also shared links for any interested discharged soldiers to return to service.

Fox News’ Danielle Wallace and Michael Lee contributed to this report.

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