White House opposes NDAA provision banning dishonorable discharge for COVID-19 vaccine refusal

Bill would prohibit service members from receiving a dishonorable discharge for refusing vaccine

The White House said it "strongly opposes" a provision in the 2022 defense spending bill that would block the Pentagon from dishonorably discharging a service member who refuses to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

A section in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act would limit military commanders' options for disciplining those who fail to comply with the vaccination mandate, the White House Office of Management and Budget said in a statement of administration policy Wednesday.

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Section 716 of the NDAA would prohibit service members who are discharged over vaccine refusal from receiving anything other than an honorable discharge, noting that "many Americans have reservations about taking a vaccine that has only been available for less than a year."

The Pentagon has described the vaccine mandate as a "lawful order" that must be obeyed.

"To enable a uniformed force to fight with discipline, commanders must have the ability to give orders and take appropriate disciplinary measures," the White House said in a statement.

The White House also said it opposes Section 720 of the NDAA, which would establish procedures for which members may be exempted from receiving the mandated COVID-19 vaccine for "administrative, medical or religious reasons, including on the basis of possessing an antibody test result demonstrating previous COVID-19 infection." 

The White House, in its statement, said that section creates "a new and overly broad exemption from the vaccination requirement for previous infection that would undermine the effectiveness of the requirement." 

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"The department will make available a full range of resources to service members, including individual and professional medical advice, to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccine and to ensure they are fully informed about vaccination," the White House said. 

The COVID-19 vaccine is one of more than a dozen vaccines required for service members. 

The back-and-forth comes after the Pentagon announced last month that members of the U.S. military will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine beginning in September. Pentagon officials, at the time, said the vaccine is a necessary step to maintain military readiness. 

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The Biden administration, earlier this month, mandated vaccines for all employees of the executive branch. The mandate does not apply to the legislative or judicial branches of government, the White House confirmed to Fox News, meaning Congress and the federal court system, as well as their staffers, are exempt from the requirement.

Biden also signed an order requiring private companies with 100 or more employees to also mandate the COVID-19 vaccine. The mandates, though, allow some religious and disability exemptions.