U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz says he will advocate for reinstating troops who were discharged for refusing the COVID-19 virus.
In an email to constituents on Friday, the Fort Walton Beach Republican said he will press the issue when the House Armed Services Committee considers the National Defense Authorization Act, the primary defense spending bill.
Gaetz said that in addition to other amendments that affect the Panhandle he would offer a measure that “protects armed services members who refuse to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.”
Moreover, he would push for reinstating those who were booted from the military for refusing to return to duty at the same rank and pay grade they held when discharged.
Gaetz said his bill would also fight for them to receive back pay and benefits for the time that they were separated.
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“I stand strong for our service members and continue to stand for your individual health care rights,” Gaetz said in the email.
The $858 billion bill passed the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this week.
President Joe Biden made the shots mandatory for the military last year as part of a broader push to force all Americans to get vaccinated.
The Pentagon began dismissing troops in December.
The current number of troops who have been discharged is unclear. The Military Times reported last month that about 3,400 had been dismissed.
Of those, 70 percent had received general discharges, while the rest were given honorable discharges.
Republicans have tried to fight back against Biden’s mandate. They’ve pushed bills broadening the parameters for religious exemptions to the jab, grating waivers to troops who can prove natural immunity and mandating honorable discharges for those who refuse the vaccine.
Biden’s mandate is also hurting military recruiting, even as the Pentagon struggles to meet its goals, despite offering up to $50,000 bonuses to recruits.
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As Military.com reported in May, “Only about 40% of Americans who are of prime recruiting age are vaccinated against the virus. Outright refusal to get the shot immediately precludes joining the force and short-circuits any pitch from recruiters. COVID vaccines are among at least a dozen inoculations mandated by the Defense Department.”
“Seventeen-to-24-year-olds are not getting vaccinated, and those [are] people we aren’t having a conversation with,” Maj. Gen. Kevin Vereen, head of U.S. Army Recruiting Command, told Military.com.