Army Stops Enforcing COVID-19 Vaccination Mandate
By Capt. Richard Lucio, Fort Bliss Legal Assistance Office
In January 2023, the Secretary of Defense rescinded the Department of Defense COVID-19 vaccination mandate. The Army formalized this decision Feb. 24, 2023. There are wide-reaching consequences for Soldiers that had previously refused to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on religious, administrative, or medical grounds, and who were denied requested exemptions from getting the vaccine based on these grounds.
First off, all pending reviews of the above exemption requests will automatically be resolved. U.S. Army Human Resource Command will then update Soldier records to mitigate any adverse actions and remove any flags associated with the denial of these requests. Furthermore, those in the accessions process will no longer require the vaccine, and Soldiers will also no longer be subject to travel restrictions based solely on COVID-19 vaccination status.
This decision will provide much relief to Soldiers who were denied an exemption based on the above-stated grounds, including the rescinding of all pending involuntary separation actions and the favorable closure of all related flags. HRC will provide further relief to Soldiers who received negative action based on their failure to comply with a lawful order to receive the COVID-19 vaccination and who previously sought an exemption. HRC will also remove applicable GOMORs from Soldiers’ Army Military Human Resource Records and will withdraw and destroy applicable locally filed GOMORs. Applicable GOMORs that have not yet been filed will also be rescinded.
If these Soldiers were subsequently barred from continued service, these bars are now removed. If these Soldiers subsequently received a negative evaluation report, HRC will contact the Soldier and their rating chain. HRC will then instruct the Soldier and their rating chain to jointly determine whether the evaluation should be maintained, modified, or removed from the Soldier’s AMHRR. All rating officials are also instructed to remove annotations documenting vaccine refusal from pending evaluations.
What action do affected Soldiers need to take? By March 26, 2023, Soldiers who sought exemptions to other mandatory vaccines in addition to their COVID-19 exemption must resubmit their request if they wish to continue to seek exemptions for the other vaccines. The requests for exemption should be specific to each vaccine, and address how receiving the vaccine substantially burdens the Soldier’s exercise of religion. Affected Soldiers do not need to receive additional counseling or training/education if the request is resubmitted by March 26, 2023.
Lastly, former Soldiers may request that the Army Discharge Review Board and the Army Board of Correction of Military Records correct their personnel records, including characterization of discharge.
If this new policy decision affects you, the Fort Bliss Legal Assistance Office encourages you to make an appointment with one of our attorneys to make sense of the complexities and discuss what relief you may be entitled. To schedule an appointment, please either call (915) 568-7141 during office hours or email firstname.lastname@example.org anytime.