How 4 Republican Senators Turned Their Backs on Servicemen Discharged for Refusing the COVID Vaccine Mandate

servicemembers discharged covid vaccine
Oregon National Guard, CC BY 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

Suppose you believe the right-wing media and the Republicans in Congress. In that case, there is much to celebrate on the military COVID vaccine mandate front. The President signed the bill, and the Pentagon rescinded the subsequent mandate that all military members must get the COVID vaccine to remain in uniform.

But what about the thousands of veterans discharged unceremoniously because their religious exemption requests were rubber-stamped DENIED by the Department of Defense? As it stands today, they are up the creek without a paddle. 

While it wasn’t for lack of trying, four Republican Senators voted against an amendment to the signed bill that would’ve granted them their service back.

So let’s look at what happened and how a spineless group of four lawmakers are in their decision not to support these veterans.

Righting The Wrong

Republican Senator Ron Johnson brought forward the amendment I’m referring to. The amendment would’ve not only reinstated military members who were discharged for declining the vaccine, but would’ve done the following:

  • Provided back pay
  • Adjusted separation status to Honorable

On top of those significant valid parts of the above amendment, Senator Johnson’s amendment would have prohibited the Department of Defense from issuing future vaccine mandates without Congressional authorization.

All of this sounds pretty amazing, I would think, particularly if you are a Republican politician who claims to care for America’s best and bravest.

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Senator Johnson illustrated just how many are affected by the COVID vaccine terminations, stating:

“Over 8,000 were terminated because they refused to get the experimental vaccine.”

But that wasn’t enough for four Republican Senators who hammered the nails in the coffin with the amendment failing 56 to 40. To have passed, it would’ve needed 60 votes.

I’ll let that math set in. 


The four Republicans who voted against reinstating veterans discharged over the vaccine were:

  • Senator Mitt Romney of Utah
  • Senator Mike Rounds of South Dakota
  • Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana
  • Senator Susan Collins of Maine

Senator Cassidy explained his vote in the following way:

“I voted to end the COVID vaccine mandate in the military but it is not Congress’s place to intervene in the chain of command and set a precedent for military personnel to ignore direct orders.”

Mr. Cassidy’s statement makes it seem as if thousands of military veterans flipped the bird to their Commanding Officers and told them where to shove it when told to get the vaccine. As if they hadn’t gone through some process to request an exemption, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

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Democrat Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island doubled down on this ridiculous oversimplification of what happened to these veterans, stating:

“What we are telling soldiers is: If you disagree, don’t follow the order and just lobby Congress. … They will restore everything, so orders are just sort of a suggestion. They are not.”

Oh, you jackass, so many things wrong with your statement. Allow me to explain.


There is a process in place, and it has been since before COVID came about for military members to apply for various vaccine exemptions. While I was in the military and a senior leader, the most exemptions I saw were in relation to religious exemptions, and COVID was no different.

These religious exemptions are part of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act or RFRA. The RFRA protects individuals’ religious freedoms against government laws contradicting their beliefs. 

Now there is a process for reviewing and approving these requests; just because you say you have some religious exemption to a vaccine doesn’t mean you automatically get your request approved. There must be some justification typically provided by military chaplains and statements from the member.

Oddly though, most religious exemptions concerning the COVID vaccine were denied with little-to-no actual review. Even the Pentagon Inspector General reported a high “potential noncompliance” within the Department of Defense with many of these rejections.

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So not only were the majority of these denials not appropriate, but once your request is denied, you must make a decision which the director of military affairs for First Liberty Institute, Mike Berry, illustrates:

“…military leaders are forcing tens of thousands of our bravest out of the service because they’ve chosen to live according to their faith.”

Certainly a far cry from how the four Republicans and all the Democrats characterize these men and women as just petulant children refusing to follow orders.

If Not You, Then Who?

For those of you that want to argue that we should take wins where we can get them, let me open your eyes to the back door the Pentagon has put in the directive to allow them to continue to persecute troops who don’t succumb to the COVID vaccine mandate.

Within the new directive, it states:

“All commanders have the responsibility and authority to preserve the Department’s compelling interest in mission accomplishment. This responsibility and authority includes the ability to maintain military readiness, unit cohesion, good order and discipline, and the health and safety of a resilient Joint Force.”

Now, suppose you aren’t adept at reading DOD jargon or reading between the lines of bureaucratic bloated military leadership propaganda. In that case, you might not see the back door.

This directive still leaves the possibility for Commanders to discharge those who decide not to get the COVID vaccine if they can prove it damages readiness, cohesion, good order and discipline, and health and safety.

It’s awfully difficult to define unit cohesion and good order and discipline, particularly if your Commanding Officer is vying for that next rank. But, more often than not, the definition is bending the knee to the ideology of those in power.

So, Senator Cassidy, it is your place to intervene in the chain of command when that chain of command has abused its power and infringed on the religious freedoms that our veterans swear to protect and defend.

So, Senator Romney, you should be restoring the good order and discipline that should’ve been in the military religious exemption process after these veterans lobbied you to do the right thing. 

But that would require you all to give a damn about your veterans. And since they don’t have nearly the money or the political capital to matter to you as much as other lobbyists like Big Education, Big Tech, Military Industrial Complex, Big Pharma, and all the others, I suppose these veterans should do what we’ve always been told to do:

Shut up and color.

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USAF Retired, Bronze Star recipient, outspoken veteran advocate. Hot mess mom to two monsters and wife to equal parts... More about Kathleen J. Anderson

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