Earlier this month, the U.S. House Armed Services Committee passed an amendment to the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act that would protect the discharge status of U.S. Military members who refuse to take a COVID-19 vaccine, as is now required under a federal mandate.
Proposed by Congressman Mark Green, who represents Williamson County as part of Tennessee's 7th District, the amendment saw pushback this week when on Tuesday, President Joe Biden released a letter opposing the discharge status protection amendment, arguing that such protections would "limit a commander's options for enforcing good order and discipline."
On Thursday, Green told the Home Page he intends to fight Biden's opposition and see to it his amendment is put into law.
The NDAA is an annual bill Congress deliberates on that specifies the U.S. Military budget and expenditures for any particular year. The bill makes its way through various committees, during which amendments are often proposed to fine-tune the legislation.
On Aug. 9, Secretary of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced that all U.S. Military members would be required to get a COVID-19 vaccine beginning in September, an announcement that saw immediate pushback from Green.
On Sept. 2, the aforementioned amendment protecting the discharge status of U.S. Military members who refuse to take the vaccine passed in the Armed Services Committee.
It would be on Sept. 21 that Biden released the letter voicing opposition to certain provisions in the latest version of the NDAA, among them being Green's amendment.
"An other than honorable discharge will ruin their lives"
While Biden can't directly strip Green's amendment out of the NDAA, what he can do is encourage a legislator to file an amendment to the bill stripping out Green's provision. On Thursday, Green told the Williamson Home Page he intends to fight it.
"I think this vaccine is safe, especially in people who are older — the risk of COVID is worse than the risk of the vaccine in the older populations — and so I took it, but I want to respect an individual's right to say 'there's only been a year's worth of date, I'd rather opt out,'" Green said. "If they opt out, they shouldn't be dishonorably discharged or otherwise."
Green said that while he understood the rationale as to why such a mandate would be implemented, he argued that given the lack of longitudinal data on COVID-19 vaccines, members of the military should retain the right of refusal without the threat of a discharge other than honorable.
The Centers for Disease Control stands behind the safety of COVID-19 vaccines, with negative reactions to COVID-19 vaccinations being extremely rare. For example, allergic reactions — the most common negative reaction to COVID-19 vaccines — has occurred in approximately 2-5 people per million vaccinated in the United States.
"I totally understand why a commander would want to have mandatory vaccines — you can't deploy 100 troops to an area and have 20 of them come down with a sickness immediately after arriving to a new location... that would make the unit combat-ineffective," Green said.
"The problem is, in all those cases, the vaccines took decades to create and they have longitudinal data: They know over time what happens to the tissues from those vaccines being injected into a person. What we don't know here is the the longitudinal effect of the vaccine."
Green also touched on the negative impacts a military discharge other than honorable can have on an individual, which includes not being able to own a firearm and forfeiting all military and veteran benefits for life.
"[If] a soldier [were] to say [they] don't want this vaccine because there's less than a year's worth of data, at that point they [would] remove the individual from the force — it shouldn't be an other than honorable discharge or dishonorable discharge because that will ruin their lives," Green said.
"If you get out of the military with an other than honorable or dishonorable [discharge], in some cases you lose so many rights; you can't even purchase gun if you have a dishonorable discharge."
Green said he intends to negotiate with members of the U.S. Senate by encouraging them to file a similar amendment on the Senate Floor, including Sens. Marsha Blackburn and Roger Marshall (R-KY).