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Military woos ex-servicemembers fired over COVID vax mandate, offering return, correcting records

Come Back, All is Forgiven: Servicemembers who were discharged from the military for refusing to comply with the now-changed COVID mandate are being wooed to return to service by various branches of the military. Critics say the real motivation is failing recruitment stats. The letters are "not an apology” or an “attempt to make things right,” said one military defense lawyer.

Published: November 20, 2023 11:00pm

Both the U.S. Army and Air Force have sent letters to former servicemembers who were separated from the military branches for refusing to comply with the 2021 Defense Department’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, providing guidance on how to seek corrections to their discharge records and how to return to service.

However, a military lawyer warns these letters are because of poor recruitment numbers, not about helping the former military members. 

The letter, which has circulated on social media and was verified in an interview by Just The News with lawyer R. Davis Younts, who represents multiple former and current servicemembers negatively impacted by the COVID vaccine mandate. The letter advises recipients to go to the Army Discharge Review Board and/or the Army Board for Correction of Military Records to seek changes to their personnel records.

The changes can include “records regarding the characterization of discharge,” according to the letter, in the cases where former servicemembers received a discharge other than honorable.


The U.S. Army is experiencing difficulties recruiting new members, being 25% below their stated goal last year, the Associated Press reported. That's about about 15,000 soldiers short.

At the end of this past fiscal year in September, the Army had a little more than 50,000 recruits, short of its “stretch goal” of 65,000, according to the AP. The Navy and Air Force were also short of their recruitment goals, the news wire added.

Last December, President Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the $858 billion defense spending bill that included a measure repealing the mandate. On Dec. 29, the Defense Department followed suit, rescinding the mandate that resulted in the discharge of over 8,000 service members who refused the vaccine.

In January, the defense secretary issued another memo partially reversing course, stating that military branch commanders may consider a service member's vaccination status "in making deployment, assignment, and other operational decisions, including when vaccination is required for travel to, or entry into, a foreign nation."

This month, the Army sent letters to “former Soldiers who were involuntarily separated for refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccination,” providing guidance on how to “return to service” and “request a correction to military personnel records.”

An Army spokesperson told Just the News in a statement on Monday, “As part of the overall COVID mandate rescission process mandated by Congress, the Army this month mailed the letters to approximately 1,900 individuals who had previously been separated. The letter provides information to former servicemembers on how to request a correction of their military records."

Meanwhile, the Air Force is also sending letters to former Airmen separated from the service for their refusal to comply with the vaccine mandate, and explained changes to their military records and how to apply to return to service.

Air Force post-COVID vaccine mandate letter
Air Force post-COVID vaccine mandate letter
R. Davis Younts

According to a copy of an Air Force letter provided to Just the News by Younts, Airmen can request corrections to their personnel records by going to the Air Force Discharge Review Board or the Air Force Board for Correction of Military Records. Younts said he knew of a formerly enlisted Airman who received the letter over this past weekend.

Younts, a retired lieutenant colonel of the Air Force Reserve and former Judge Advocate General's Corps (JAG) lawyer, told Just the News on Monday that the letters “demonstrated" what many people "said from the beginning, that the vaccine is not necessary.”

He also said that some unvaccinated Airmen who remained in the military due to court injunctions on the vaccine mandate are still being tasked to deploy and ordered to receive a COVID vaccine for deployment. If those Airmen choose to not receive the vaccine, then they would be subject to the same discipline that others experienced under the original COVID vaccine mandate, Younts added.

The Department of Defense (DoD) didn’t respond to a request for comment, and the Air Force was unable to provide comment by publishing time.

Younts also noted that the letters are “incredibly disheartening” and “frustrating” to servicemembers who were “kicked out” of the military, as they believe that the vaccine mandate was illegal. Younts said he agrees with these former service members that a COVID vaccine fully-approved by the FDA was never made available and that the servicemembers' Religious Accommodation Requests were improperly denied.

He said he believes that the letters were sent “reluctantly” due to poor recruitment and retention numbers for the military. There was “no acknowledgment” of the vaccine mandate being an “unlawful order,” or that the servicemembers’ constitutional rights and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act were violated, Younts said.

Also, the discharge review boards and boards of correction for getting personnel records corrected can take up to two years to get a decision, and there is no guarantee that the boards will side with the former servicemembers, Younts said.

He explained that the DoD could fix the former servicemembers’ personnel records without them having to go through the boards, or “Congress could force them to do it.” The DoD could also tell the boards to approve the requests for changing the former military members’ records, then the members would simply have to apply.

The letters are “not a fix” to the vaccine mandate, they are a result of the military “having a retention and recruitment crisis,” Younts added.

He also said that there was “no provision being made for back pay” or “time in service credit.” As a result, former servicemembers who would return to the military may have gaps in their career that would negatively affect them for promotions and retirement.

Ultimately, the letters are "not an apology” or an “attempt to make things right,” Younts said.

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