Lankford, Cruz, Colleagues Defend Service Members from Vaccine Punishment

WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) joined Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) and 12 of their colleagues to introduce the Allowing Military Exemptions, Recognizing Individual Concerns About New Shots (AMERICANS) Act of 2022. The bill counters the Biden Administration’s efforts to coerce and punish service members who decline the COVID-19 vaccine and introduces accountability measures in response to DOD efforts to undermine transparency.

“Our service members who have chosen not to receive the COVID-19 vaccination face full discharge from the military which means they can no longer serve the country they love because of Biden’s vaccine mandate,” said Lankford. “For some service members, serving our nation in the military is all they’ve ever wanted to do. They deserve nothing less than an honorable discharge from service with our full gratitude and the benefits they earned since the rules changed for them after they joined the military. Biden’s unnecessary mandate is pushing out women and men who have faithfully served our nation and our nation has invested millions of dollars to train and equip.”

“It is absolutely unacceptable that the Biden administration is trying to coerce our men and women in uniform to violate their conscience and religious beliefs, let alone on an issue as polarizing as the COVID-19 vaccine. The AMERICANS Act will ensure that these and similar efforts to politicize our military on this issue are blocked,” said Cruz.

The bill would require the Secretary of Defense to make every effort to retain unvaccinated service members, strengthen language to ensure service members receive discharge classifications commensurate with their record of service, require the Department of Defense to report the number and type of COVID-19 vaccine religious exemptions that have been denied, and create an exemption from COVID-19 vaccine requirements for service members with natural immunity. The act would also protect service academy students and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) members in the same way.

The bill is cosponsored by Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Josh Hawley (R-MO), Roger Marshall (R-KS), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Rand Paul (R-KY), John Hoeven (R-ND), Jim Risch (R-ID), Rick Scott (R-FL), Mike Braun (R-IN), and Steve Daines (R-MT).

Lankford has directly engaged with the service branches and Department of Defense to stand up for service members who do not want to be forced to choose between being discharged from service and the COVID vaccine. He introduced the COVID-19 Vaccine Dishonorable Discharge Prevention Act to prohibit the Department of Defense from giving service members a dishonorable discharge for choosing not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, which was ultimately solidified in the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act Lankford supported and was signed into law. 

Lankford previously sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin demanding to know why, despite 19,979 known requests for religious accommodations from the COVID-19 vaccine, the Department had granted nearly zero religious accommodations among the service branches. The letter requested a response by February 1. When he did not receive a timely response, Lankford requested that the Acting Department of Defense (DOD) Inspector General Sean O’Donnell conduct an audit of DOD’s COVID-19 vaccine exemption process, and the IG responded 10 days later that an audit would be conducted.

Lankford was joined by Senator Mike Lee (R-UT), and their colleagues to send a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin asking him to provide information on the number and nature of military discharges for not receiving a COVID vaccine.