The Army National Guard could discharge up to 14,000 troops over the next two years for refusing to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, service leaders told Stars and Stripes Tuesday.
That number includes individuals who have applied for medical or religious waivers to the vaccine, which is required by the Department of Defense (DOD) even though President Biden has declared the pandemic “over,” Anson Smith, deputy chief of the Army National Guard Strength Maintenance Division, told Stars and Stripes. Nearly 10,000 National Guard troops have declined to receive the vaccine, according to DOD data, and wait in limbo until the Army gives permission for the Guard to issue discharges.
Smith estimated the Guard could separate as many as 9,000 troops throughout the country in fiscal year 2023, which begins Oct. 1, and an additional 5,000 the following year, according to Stars and Stripes.
Only seven Army National Guard members have obtained permanent medical vaccine waivers, according to DOD data. The Guard has rejected 42 applications for religious waivers and has yet to grant a single one.
The Guard has achieved about 98% of its total force size goal of 336,000 for the 2022 fiscal year, Gen. Daniel Hokanson, chief of the National Guard Bureau told Stars and Stripes.
Army National Guard recruiters face “unprecedented” challenges, Hokansan told Stars and Stripes. To attract more recruits, the Guard has considered expanding the military’s Tricare health care system to include Guard members who have not accrued enough hours on orders to qualify.
Currently, about 60,000 Guard members lack health care coverage, the outlet reported.
“When you look at overall, the fact that there is no health insurance provided to the National Guard folks, and we asked them to be ready at a moment’s notice, … we really need to make sure that they’re medically healthy and ready and if they’re injured that they’ve gotten that treated so that they can really respond when we ask them to,” Hokanson said. “Health care is absolutely critical to making that happen.”
In addition, the Air National Guard has about 5,400 airmen who have either flatly refused the vaccine or are seeking waivers, although the service did not say how many faced possible separation or when, Stars and Stripes reported. The Air Guard has 97.2% of its authorized personnel total of 108,000.
The National Guard did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.
Reporting from The National Pulse.