Kansas senator’s bill would block dishonorable discharge for refusing vaccine

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. — Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin has mandated COVID-19 vaccines for all U.S. service members and the Pentagon has declared it a lawful order. But recent communication from the Executive Office of the White House has some lawmakers worried they could be dishonorably discharged for failing to get the vaccine.

U.S. Military members in foreign wars have a history of getting vaccines.

“Everybody got overseas shots I don’t know all the shots I got during the Vietnam thing,” Vietnam War Veteran Richard Fancher said.

But now the battle over COVID-19 vaccines in the military has some veterans like Fancher up in arms.

“The thought of a dishonorable discharge for doing nothing is absolutely disgusting,” he said.

A section of the House’s proposed National Defense Authorization Act would bar dishonorable discharges for not getting the vaccine but the White House said that “would limit a commander’s options for enforcing good order and discipline when a service member fails to obey a lawful order to receive a vaccination.”

“To have a dishonorable discharge will take away your second amendment it’s going to keep you from accessing the educational opportunities the military affords as well as access to the VA for your healthcare. So this is a big big deal if you are in the military right now,” U.S. Senator Roger Marshall, R-Kan., said.

Marshall and other Republicans introduced the COVID-19 Vaccine Dishonorable Discharge Prevention Act last week.

“It’s very realistic for soldiers as we speak this week are being separated will be given a dishonorable discharge,” Marshall said.

Kansas City Kansas Attorney Joe DeWoskin spent decades as a judge advocate in the Army trying cases where someone refused a lawful order.

“You don’t get to tell your commanding officer to go pound sand, you are required to follow orders, you don’t get to talk back,” he said.

But as for enforcing the vaccine – “I’d be surprised, actually I’d be shocked if someone received a dishonorable discharge for refusing to take the vaccine,” he said.

DeWoskin explains the tens of thousands of service members who could refuse the vaccine would have to be court martialed. That would be numerous trials, requiring convictions and sentences, if superiors chose to file charges.

Marshall’s legislation only aims to block dishonorable discharges, not the mandate. But he does say he’s worried it will weaken the military’s current numbers and hurt enlistment in the short run.

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