The military services have until March 17 to rescind their COVID-19 vaccination policies, according to a Pentagon memo signed Friday, including reversing any existing flags or in-process involuntary separations for service members who have refused vaccination.
Some services have already moved out, at least in part. The Army last month internally directed commands to stop kicking people out for vaccine noncompliance. The Navy and Marine Corps formally rescinded vaccine requirements in January. The Navy also announced this week it is now allowing unvaccinated sailors to deploy on ships, though liberty may be restricted during port visits to some countries, and the Marine Corps is following suit.
“DoD Component policies, directives, and guidance have not been operative since the January 10, 2023, memorandum was issued, regardless of the status of the DoD Component conforming guidance,” the Friday memo reads. “DoD Component heads shall formally rescind any such policies, directives, and guidance as soon as possible, if they have not done so already.”
Following DoD’s memo, the Army issued its post-mandate guidance on Friday.
Despite the end of the mandate, there may still be cases where a service member’s deployments or assignments are limited, perhaps due to vaccine mandates in host countries, for example.
Any requests “to initiate mandatory immunizations of personnel against COVID-19 will be made judiciously and only when justified by compelling operational needs and will be as narrowly tailored as possible,” according to the guidance.
Between August 2021 and early January, while the mandate was in effect, the services discharged just over 8,600 service members in both the active and reserve components.
Austin’s January memo directed any veterans who received discharges to apply for records upgrades through their service’s board of corrections, including changing reenlistment restrictions that required vaccination.
Though some Republican lawmakers have pushed for reinstatements and back pay for discharged troops, the law that forced DoD to repeal the mandate did not include those provisions, and the Pentagon has said they aren’t considering those measures.
“We are not pursuing, as a matter of policy, backpay for those who refused the vaccine,” Air Force Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters in January. “At the time that those orders were refused, it was a lawful order.”
House and Senate Republicans introduced legislation that would provide backpay on Jan. 25. The bill is with the armed services committees.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.