Pentagon’s legal woes over COVID vaccine mandate persist

At the height of the global pandemic, the Pentagon in August 2021 decreed that all U.S. troops must get the COVID-19 vaccine, then launched a logistical push to get the shot to every service member stationed anywhere in the world.

Last December, amid heightened clashes over the vaccine mandates and individual rights, Congress passed and President Biden signed a defense spending bill repealing that mandate, forcing defense officials to take the rare step of rolling back a seemingly iron-clad, military-wide order.

And all of that may have been the easy part.

The end of the military’s coronavirus mandate has sparked complex legal questions for the Defense Department, troops across each military service, legal scholars, and attorneys on both sides of the vaccine debate.

Chief among them is exactly how to punish — or not — the service members who refused the shot and, as the Pentagon argues, refused to follow the “lawful order” handed down by Mr. Biden, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and officers up and down the military’s chain of command.

Pentagon officials say they’re still reviewing on a case-by-case basis instances of service members who declined the vaccine. But some critics say that approach creates even more problems and could result in a review process that ensures the mandate will be a headache for the military for years to come.

“It’s a total mess,” said Sean Timmons, a Houston attorney with the firm Tully Rinckey PLLC, who has represented military personnel challenging the vaccine mandate. “Each branch and service — it’s up to its discretion to decide how to handle each individual case, almost on a case-by-case basis. That’s problematic.”

Mr. Timmons said the military is wary of letting vaccine refusers off without any sort of discipline.

“It made a lot of commanders very angry that people weren’t just falling in line,” he said. . . .  (read more on Washington Times)


Leave a Comment