The Army, which faced harsh congressional criticism for discharging soldiers who refused to take the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine at the height of the pandemic, has quietly done an about-face.
According to a Nov. 1 letter, the Army’s director of military personnel management said former soldiers who were involuntarily separated for refusing to take the vaccine can both request a correction of their personnel file and apply for reinstatement in the active duty or reserve ranks.
The move comes amid cratering enlistment numbers for the Army and other U.S. military services. The Army has announced other changes seeking to fill the rank, including ditching sergeants on temporary assignment as recruiters in favor of a cadre of full-time “talent acquisition specialists.”
According to Fox News, the Army sent letters to about 1,900 former soldiers kicked out for their refusal to take the vaccine, which the Defense Department considered to be a violation of military orders.
The new policy comes after Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin lifted his previous policy mandating the COVID-19 vaccine — a move effectively forced on the military by a provision in the 2023 defense authorization law.
Congressional Republicans led the charge against the vaccine mandate, repeatedly pressing service chiefs to allow soldiers, sailors and Marines the option of opting out.
“No individuals currently serving in the armed forces shall be separated solely on the basis of their refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccination if they sought an accommodation on religious, administrative or medical grounds,” Mr. Austin wrote in a January 2023 memorandum. “The secretaries of the military departments will further cease any ongoing reviews of current service member religious, administrative, or medical accommodation requests solely for exemption from the COVID-19 vaccine or appeals or denials of such requests.”
The Army and the other military services are facing the most dire recruiting challenge since the end of the draft more than 50 years ago. Military officials have blamed the shortfall on a number of factors, including a strong economy offering ample civilian employment to the growing number of out-of-shape potential recruits.
In the fiscal year that just ended, the Army brought in about 55,000 recruits — 10,000 short of its goal of 65,000.