Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and 17 of their 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 mirroring Senator Blackburn’s measure to repeal the military COVID vaccine mandate and required a report on how U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) adjudicated servicemember’s requests for an exemption from the mandate on religious and other grounds.
The updated AMERICANS Act includes measures not incorporated into the NDAA, including a requirement that the Secretary of Defense to offer reinstatement to servicemembers who were fired over the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
“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,” said Senator Blackburn.
“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,” said Senator Cruz.
The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), James Risch (R-Idaho), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), 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.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), James Lankford (R-Okla.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), and Josh Hawley (R-Mo.).
A companion bill is being led by Rep. Dan Bishop (R-N.C.) in the U.S. House of Representatives.
“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,” said Senator Crapo.
“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,” said Senator Risch.
“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. 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,” said Senator Cramer.
“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,” said Senator Lee.
“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,” said Senator Rick Scott.
“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,” said Senator Paul.
“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,” said Representative Bishop.
“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,” said Elaine Donnelly, founder and president of the Center for Military Readiness.
“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,” said Mike Berry, Director of Military Affairs and Senior Counsel.
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:
- Reinstate any servicemember 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;
- Restore the rank of any servicemember demoted solely for COVID-19 vaccine status, compensating the servicemember for any pay and benefits lost due to that demotion;
- Adjust to “honorable” any “general” discharge given to a servicemember solely due to COVID-19 vaccine status;
- 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;
- Make every effort to retain servicemembers not vaccinated against COVID-19, providing them with professional development, promotion, and leadership opportunities equal to that of their peers; and
- Provide a COVID-19 vaccine exemption process for servicemembers with natural immunity, a relevant underlying health condition, or a sincerely held religious belief inconsistent with being vaccinated.
Read the bill here.