Under direction from the Biden administration, military personnel leaving service will have their VA benefits stripped if they don’t get vaccinated. The announcement came Wednesday from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD)
Troops who refuse the vaccine will also not receive any special protections in regard to their dismissals from the military, according to the Military Times.
The decision on whether or not to give troops an other-than-honorable or dishonorable discharge will now fall on the individual commanders of local stations, and the Times stated that commanders were instructed not to give “any preferential evaluations for veterans’ benefits eligibility.”
Typically, service members are automatically barred from receiving benefits if they receive a dishonorable discharge, such as a court marshal or desertion, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).
Benefits that can be lost include home loans, GI Bill benefits, and a variety of other military subsidiary programs.
An other-than-honorable discharge may still be eligible for “treatment at a VA medical facility for disabilities determined to be service-connected,” such as mental health evaluations, according to the VA. However, they will not have access to the majority of other benefits.
In all other cases, the VA typically takes a number of factors into account when determining benefits eligibility, including service records and length of service.
Republicans in Congress have recently been pushing for the removal of benefits to be less harsh for those who refuse the vaccine. A House measure was also passed in September that would ban the military from issuing dishonorable discharges to people in that category, though it still faces a battle in the Senate.
Despite this, though, the DOD said that the vaccine is about keeping service members safe.
“We see the vaccine as a readiness issue,” Gil Cisneros, DOD undersecretary for personnel, testified to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Any discharge decision is up to the individual service as to how they proceed with that.”
Two branches of the military, the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Space Force had nearly 8,500 members miss the recent November 2 vaccination deadline. The other branches also have deadlines for the shot in the next few weeks.
Records indicate that just 70 active service members, out of over 1.3 million, have died from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. That’s a rate significantly lower than the general public. One reason could be the overall health of the US Military with no instances of obesity or other mitigating health risks.