The U.S. Military Academy at West Point affirmed a COVID-19 vaccination requirement for incoming cadets weeks after the Secretary of Defense did away with the military vaccine mandate, according to a spokesperson and separate communications viewed by the Daily Caller News Foundation.
West Point had revoked travel restrictions for unvaccinated members as of Jan. 31, according to an official Army order obtained by the DCNF and an academy spokesperson, and as of Friday the Army formally repealed all internal COVID-19 vaccine requirements in line with Department of Defense (DOD) orders from earlier in January.
Yet even in late February, after the application deadline had passed, the academy’s admissions office confirmed a vaccination requirement for incoming new cadets, according to West Point communications viewed by the DCNF and a spokesperson.
“There is no telling how many potential cadets this arbitrary mandate has dissuaded from serving our nation,” Republican Rep. Jim Banks of Indiana told the DCNF.
West Point’s application deadline for high school seniors occurs in early February, according to the website.
Congress’s defense bill for 2023 included a provision ordering Austin to rescind the COVID-19 mandate. According to the bill, DOD had one month starting when President Joe Biden signed the bill into law on Dec. 23 to issue new guidance.
The Army preemptively paused discharges for unvaccinated troops while the secretary developed a new policy.
But, the West Point admissions office in late February told an inquirer that West Point’s current guidance is that the incoming class of cadets must be vaccinated in a statement obtained by the DCNF. The statement noted that, due to recent changes to DOD COVID-19 policy, the requirement could change before the next incoming class reports to the academy in June.
Further, when the DCNF reached out on Feb. 22, a spokesperson in the academy’s public affairs office said “the policy is that individuals seeking accession into the Army must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.”
The spokesperson cited Department of Defense’s Army Directive 2022-02, which initiated the discharge process for soldiers who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine in contravention of Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s August 2021 department-wide mandate. The policy affirmed the vaccine requirement for both current and prospective recruits, including those seeking to join the military academy.
West Point “will follow current policy for initiating administrative separation and disenrollment proceedings for cadets and cadet candidates pursuant to reference 1e [USMA organizational guidelines], as appropriate. The basis for separation will be ‘Misconduct,’” the directive reads.
Army Directive 2022-02 cites the August 2021 order to define “fully vaccinated” status. Austin revoked that memo on Jan. 10.
The academy spokesperson acknowledged the fluid situation and suggested things could change soon.
On Feb. 23, just over 24 hours after the previous email, the public affairs office followed up with the DCNF, stating that “the U.S. Military Academy no longer requires a COVID-19 vaccination for candidates applying to West Point” and citing Army Directive 2022-02 again.
The Public Affairs Office explained it had not been made aware of the revision and that the earliest communication available was identified the day prior.
Then, the Army released an official policy Friday evening allowing unvaccinated individuals to seek admission to the academy.
“I hereby rescind all Department of the Army policies specifically associated with the implementation of the COVID-19 vaccination mandate” to include that the vaccine is “no longer required for accessions or pre-commissioning programs,” Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth wrote in the memo.
West Point did not respond to multiple follow-up queries from the DCNF earlier on Feb. 24.
“At a time when recruitment numbers are already dangerously low, our service academies should not be discriminating against applicants,” Banks told the DCNF. “The lack of transparency and unclear guidelines surrounding this mandate is just the latest example of bureaucracy at its worst!”
Although all branches of the armed services struggled with recruiting, the Army suffered the worst deficit relative to its goals, coming 15,000 recruits short of the 60,000 target.
West Point was barring unvaccinated cadets from traveling off-base in official capacity in January even though they were no longer in danger of being discharged, the DCNF previously reported.
A DOD revision to COVID-19 related force protection guidance on Jan. 31 ending monitoring cadets based on vaccination status and rescinding travel guidance, a West Point spokesperson previously confirmed to the DCNF.
Paragraph 3.D.15. of the Army’s Feb. 2 order, a change to the service branch’s existing COVID-19 guidance, removed restrictions on unvaccinated soldiers and cadets. “Effective immediately, not fully vaccinated individuals may conduct any official travel that is appropriate under the joint travel regulations and not otherwise prohibited by army regulation or the force health protection guidance revision,” it states.
By Micaela Burrow, The Daily Caller News Foundation
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