Senate Democrats Block Cruz Amendment to Reinstate Servicemembers Wrongfully Discriminated Against Based on COVID-19 Vaccine Status

Senate Democrats blocked U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) from adding an amendment to the FY24 National Defense Authorization Act. The amendment, which is based on Sen. Cruz and Rep. Dan Bishop’s (R-N.C.) AMERICANS Act (S. 29), would have provided remedies to military servicemembers who were involuntarily separated from the military based solely on COVID-19 vaccine status, allowing these individuals to return to military service and to adjust their discharge status from “general” to “honorable” to restore lost GI Bill and VA benefits.

The amendment was co-sponsored by Sens. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Rick Scott (R-Fla.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), Eric Schmitt (R-Mo.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.).

About the amendment, Sen. Cruz said“While last year’s NDAA quite rightly repealed the vaccine mandate prospectively, problems caused by the mandate persist, including concerning recruiting, retention and readiness. According to reports, the Biden administration dismissed over 8,400 military service members who had vaccine concerns. DOD gave over 80 percent of these service members a ‘general discharge’ causing them to lose GI benefits and in some cases VA benefits – even though those were benefits earned through honorable service. My amendment rights these wrongs. It will allow service members dismissed over the vaccine mandate to seek reinstatement or a change in discharge status. It restores lost GI and VA benefits. According to media reports, the DOD is already contemplating all of these actions, but I believe that the Senate should lead to address these issues.”

Listen to Sen. Cruz’s full floor speech here.

In total, Sen. Cruz’s amendment would:

-          Prohibit the Secretary of Defense from issuing any replacement COVID-19 vaccine mandate without Congressional approval; and

-          Require the Department of Defense to:

o   Reinstate any service member 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;

o   Restore the rank of any service member demoted solely for COVID-19 vaccine status, compensating the service member for any pay and benefits lost due to that demotion;

o   Adjust to “honorable” any “general” discharge given to a service member solely due to COVID-19 vaccine status;

o   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;

o   Make every effort to retain service members not vaccinated against COVID-19, providing them with professional development, promotion, and leadership opportunities equal to that of their peers; and

o   Provide a COVID-19 vaccine exemption process for service members with natural immunity, a relevant underlying health condition, or a sincerely held religious belief inconsistent with being vaccinated.

Read the amendment text here.

Sen. Cruz has led the fight against government overreach due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • In 2020, when 1.4 million Texans lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Sen. Cruz fought for true economic recovery, introducing comprehensive legislation to restart the economy, get Americans back to work, and put our kids back in school. 
  • He led the fight against unlawful COVID-19 mandates by introducing the first and most sweeping bill to prohibit federal vaccine mandates, tracking persons based on vaccination status and denying essential liberties based on vaccine status. In addition, his proposal would provide all employees with protections against employment-based vaccine mandates by extending current civil rights protections.
  • During the pandemic, Sen Cruz led the fight for religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
  • Sen. Cruz has led his colleagues on amicus briefs against vaccine mandates on behalf of Navy SEALs and federal employees.
  • Sen. Cruz’s legislative language  to repeal the Department of Defense’s vaccine mandate was included in the FY23 NDAA.
  • Sen. Cruz previously sponsored Sen. Roger Marshall’s (R-Kansas) NDAA amendment to protect service members who refused to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Sen. Cruz previously offered the vaccine exemption and reporting requirements as amendments to the FY22 NDAA.
  • Sen. Cruz supported legislation to stop President Biden’s vaccine mandate on private employees under the Congressional Review Act, introduced the Parental Rights Protection Act to prohibit the federal government and any entity that receives federal funding from requiring COVID-19 vaccines for minors, and introduced legislation to end the Biden administration’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mask mandate for all Americans, regardless of vaccination status.
  • Sen. Cruz has long been a champion of protecting students from ineffective and unfair COVID-19 vaccine mandates. He most recently sponsored a bill to combat the implementation of a racist coronavirus vaccination mandate in D.C. schools.
  • Sen. Cruz worked to hold the Chinese Communist Party accountable for the COVID-19 pandemic.

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