Bill could rescind COVID vaccine mandate for service members

Published: Dec. 19, 2022 at 5:49 PM EST
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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) - An $858 billion defense bill is waiting for President Joe Biden’s signature.

In addition to funding the military, it could rescind the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for service members. The requirement was controversial when it was first implemented after the vaccine was released.

We talked to a captain in the Army who’s in limbo. But what does this bill mean for his career and service members in a similar situation?

More than 8,000 service members chose not to abide by the order.

Captain Dale Cavender has been waiting to see if his time in the military is over.

“I refused the vaccine and went through the whole process of my commander having to sit me down and order me to get it. And then I told them I wasn’t going to,” he said.

Once a dream...

“I was on, like exactly the path I wanted to be on,” said Cavender.

Now what he feels is a nightmare…

“I’m being punished for disobeying an order, and as it stands, even if they remove the mandate that required the order in the first place, I still disobeyed the order,” he said.

Cavender received a General Officer Memorandum of Reprimand for refusing the vaccine.

“A written reprimand, which goes on my permanent record, as an officer, basically means that I probably never get promoted, if I do get to stay in,” he said.

Now it’s up to the Assistant Deputy Secretary of the Army to make a final determination. While there’s still ink left in the pen for Biden to sign, the National Defense Authorization Act doesn’t protect those already given the slip.

“They just thanklessly kicked him out without an award, without a ‘thank you’, with a ‘don’t let the door hit you on the way out’,” he said.

Senators voted down an amendment to award back pay and reinstate troops who refused the vaccine. Instead, they are released on general or honorable discharge.

“Anybody who refused a vaccine couldn’t get worse in general discharge. Unless there were some other extenuating circumstances, which I haven’t done anything else. The worst that could happen is general discharge,” said Cavender.

Once a soldier, always a soldier.

“I only say these things because I want to see the Army succeed. And I think that the only way that that can happen is if their shortcomings are made aware,” he said.

In the language of the NDAA, the legislation requires The Pentagon to remove the mandate for service members within 30 days of Biden’s signature.

While the GOP Amendment to reinstate and give back pay to discharged troops failed in a 40 to 54 vote, Republicans who have the majority in the House next year are already vowing to make plans to change that.