Soldier receives the COVID-19 vaccination at Stayton Theater, at Fort Bliss, Texas, Feb. 5, 2021.

Soldier receives the COVID-19 vaccination at Stayton Theater, at Fort Bliss, Texas, Feb. 5, 2021. Photo by Pfc. Maxwell Bass

The Army Will Start Involuntary Separations for 3,300 Soldiers Who Refused a COVID Vaccine

Another 5,870 soldiers have pending exemption requests.

As service leaders promised last year, the Army has begun to eject soldiers who have refused a COVID-19 vaccine and have not received an official exemption. As of Wednesday, 3,350 of the Army’s active-duty soldiers and reserve soldiers on active orders are due to be involuntarily separated. Less than 1 percent of the active force is affected, service officials said. 

The directive from Army Secretary Christine Wormuth, released Wednesday morning, directs commanders to “initiate involuntary administrative separation proceedings against any soldier who has refused the COVID-19 vaccination order and does not have an approved or pending exemption request” including active-duty soldiers, reserve soldiers serving on Title 10 active-duty orders, and cadets.

The full directive calls for commanders to process the separations, from initiation to discharge, “as expeditiously as possible.” 

“Army readiness depends on soldiers who are prepared to train, deploy, fight, and win our nation’s wars,” Wormuth said in an emailed statement. “Unvaccinated soldiers present risk to the force and jeopardize readiness.”

Soldiers being involuntarily separated will receive at least a “General (Under Honorable Conditions)” characterization of service unless additional misconduct warrants an “Other than Honorable” discharge. 

In December, just one day after its COVID-19 vaccination deadline, the Army reported in a memo that six active-duty soldiers had been relieved, including two battalion commanders. 

“Currently, soldiers who refuse the order to be vaccinated without an approved or pending exemption request may be subject to adverse administrative action,” the December memo read. “Beginning in January, Army commanders will initiate involuntary separation for the less than one percent of active component soldiers who continue to refuse the vaccination order without an approved or pending exemption.”

As of Jan 26, the Army is still processing 5,870 requests for exemption: 2,190 on religious grounds and 709 on medical ones. Soldiers whose requests are denied may appeal the decision. If their appeal is unsuccessful, they have seven days to begin a COVID-19 vaccine regimen or face involuntary separation.

Army reservists who are not currently serving on orders have roughly five months before their June 30 deadline to be fully vaccinated. Seven Republican governors are  pushing back against the mandate.  

Among the soldiers slated for ejection are 266 who requested religious exemptions. Like the Air Force and Navy, the Army has approved zero religious exemptions. Only the Marine Corps has approved any. In all, some 18,500 service members have requested such exemptions; several are pursuing legal action in the face of disapprovals. 

The Army is just the most recent branch to begin separating service members for refusing a COVID-19 vaccine. The Air Force has separated at least 87 airmen, the Navy has separated 45 sailors, and the Marine Corps has separated nearly 400 Marines. Thousands more service members across the force have requested exemptions and face involuntary separation if those are denied.