Sen. Cruz introduces legislation building on vaccine mandate ban to reinstate service members fired over COVID vaccine
HARLEYSVILLE, PENNSYLVANIA - MAY 12: U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) speaks at a campaign event for fellow Republican, senate candidate Dave McCormick at Leddy’s Pub on May 12, 2022 in Harleysville, Pennsylvania. Cruz joined the former hedge fund executive McCormick for the event ahead of the May 17 primary to replace retiring Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

SAN ANTONIO (KTSA News) — With members of the United States Armed Forces no longer required to take COVID-19 shots, one U.S. Senator is bringing forth legislation that would reinstate those who were discharged for not taking it in the first place.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and 12 of his colleagues have introduced the Allowing Military Exemptions, Recognizing Individual Concerns About New Shots (AMERICANS) Act of 2023. The legislation builds off of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2023, which included language from legislation Cruz introduced last year to repeal the COVID-19 vaccine mandate in the Department of Defense and required a report on how DOD adjudicated service member’s requests for an exemption from the mandate on religious and other grounds.

The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), James Risch (R-Idaho), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Roger Marshall (R-Ks.), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

A companion bill is being led by Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The updated AMERICANS Act introduced today includes measures not incorporated into the NDAA, including a requirement that the Secretary of Defense to offer reinstatement to service members who were fired over the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

About the bill, Sen. Cruz said:

“Our military continues to feel the effects of the Biden administration’s reckless, misguided, and now-prohibited vaccine mandates. I’m glad that we were able to remove the COVID-19 vaccine mandate last Congress, but there is more work to do. The AMERICANS Act would correct the wrongs done to unvaccinated service members who were discharged for exercising their conscience.” 

About the bill, Rep. Bishop said:

“While last year’s NDAA directed that SECDEF rescind the DOD’s authoritarian COVID vaccine mandate, it didn’t prohibit the DOD from issuing a similar mandate in the future. The bill also didn’t provide any meaningful remedies for servicemembers who were kicked out due to the mandate. This is completely unacceptable. Sen. Cruz and my bill, the AMERICANS Act, will close these glaring loopholes and bring justice to military members who were purged by Secretary Austin’s egregious vaccine mandate.”

Sen. Crapo said:

“While the DOD ending their vaccine mandate for service members is a welcome first step, we must continue to push for the repeal of all related penalties and forced separations previously imposed on our women and men of our Armed Forces.”

Sen. Risch said:

“America’s brave service members were given an unfair, unjust ultimatum when U.S. Secretary of Defense Austin instituted a vaccine mandate. While few service members received religious and health exemptions, most were discharged, and denied GI eligibility.  Thankfully this vaccine mandate was rescinded, but Congress must right the wrongs of the Biden Administration’s initial mandate. Through the AMERICANS Act, the Secretary of Defense is prohibited from replacing this initial mandate with another and it requires the reinstatement or restoration of rank for any service member separated or demoted due solely for vaccine status.”

Sen. Cramer said:

“To implement its far-left agenda, the Biden Administration weaponized the COVID-19 vaccine by mandating it for military members – an undeniable infringement on individuals’ morals and religious beliefs,” said Senator Cramer. “As military recruitment and retention declines, the AMERICANS Act would rightfully protect our soldiers from any similar future mandates and ensure the brave men and women who seek to defend our great country, can.”

Sen. Blackburn said:

“Over 8,000 servicemembers were discharged because of the Biden administration’s unjust COVID vaccine mandate, and many were denied the benefits of honorable service. This is an utter slap in the face to the brave men and women who have volunteered to defend our nation. While we were successful in rescinding the military COVID mandate, we must now ensure separated servicemembers are offered immediate reinstatement and full compensation for their loss of benefits.”

Sen. Lee said:

“I’m immensely proud of Congress’s work that resulted in the rescission of the military’s vaccine mandate, but we still have work to do. We must take steps to fully restore those service members who continue to experience the ramifications of this misguided and unjust policy. I’m proud to cosponsor Sen. Ted Cruz’s and Rep. Dan Bishop’s AMERICANS Act to prevent this type of mandate from being reinstated and to provide the necessary remedies to those service members harmed by DOD’s policy.”

Sen. Scott said:

“The military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate was disastrous for military readiness and needlessly destroyed the lives and careers of thousands of brave service members. Our brave men and women in uniform put their lives on the line to protect this great country, and the fact that their sincere religious concerns were not handled with fairness and impartiality is unacceptable. We must right these wrongs. I am proud to stand with my colleagues in introducing the AMERICANS Act to ensure this complete government overreach will never happen again.”

Sen. Paul said:

“The COVID-19 vaccine mandate has ruined the livelihoods of men and women who have honorably served our country. This inept bureaucratic policy should have never been imposed, and while it has since been rolled back, we still have service members who have not been rehired, promoted, or received back pay and benefits. The AMERICANS Act will address these issues and others that the Biden administration has failed to consider at the expense of service members’ lives and our nation’s national security interests.”

Rod Bishop, Lt. Gen. USAF (Ret), Chairman of the Board of STARRS, said:

“STARRS strongly supports Congress exercising its oversight responsibilities to ensure vaccine mandates are implemented IAW the laws of our land. Additionally, we are avid advocates of Senator Cruz’s efforts to ensure patriotic military men and women who have suffered because of apparently illegal acts by our government are provided some crucial remedies through the AMERICANS Act!”

Elaine Donnelly, founder and president of the Center for Military Readiness, said:

“Congress was justified in revoking the Defense Department’s inflexible COVID-19 vaccine mandates last year, in view of recent studies and experiences with the COVID-19 vaccines.  These included reduced vaccine effectiveness, apparent risks of adverse events for young and otherwise healthy males, and the relatively mild consequences of COVID in the military demographic.  Congress should take the next step by supporting provisions in the AMERICANS Act that would provide remedies for individuals who were harmed by unreasonable vaccination mandates, and prevent reinstatement of those policies.”

Mike Berry, Director of Military Affairs and Senior Counsel, said:

“Congress’ repeal of the DOD Covid vaccine mandate was a needed first step, but the Pentagon continues to exploit loopholes to relentlessly punish current service members who have religious objections to the vaccine. The AMERICANS Act will ensure our brave service members enjoy the same Constitutionally assured religious freedom they’ve sworn to protect. It is an important next step that will help America maintain a strong, ready, and capable military.”

The AMERICANS Act would:

–          Prohibit the Secretary of Defense from issuing any replacement COVID-19 vaccine mandate without Congressional approval; and

–          Require the Department of Defense to:

o   Reinstate any service member separated solely for COVID-19 vaccine status who wants to return to service, crediting the service member with the time of involuntary separation for retirement pay calculations;

o   Restore the rank of any service member demoted solely for COVID-19 vaccine status, compensating the service member for any pay and benefits lost due to that demotion;

o   Adjust to “honorable” any “general” discharge given to a service member solely due to COVID-19 vaccine status;

o   Expunge from a service members’ record any adverse action based solely on COVID-19 vaccine status, regardless of whether the service member previously sought an accommodation;

o   Make every effort to retain service members not vaccinated against COVID-19, providing them with professional development, promotion, and leadership opportunities equal to that of their peers; and

o   Provide a COVID-19 vaccine exemption process for service members with natural immunity, a relevant underlying health condition, or a sincerely held religious belief inconsistent with being vaccinated.

 

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