Congress Passes $770 Billion Defense Bill, Allows Discharge Over Vaccine Refusal

Casey Harper (The Center Square).

The $770 billion defense bill was passed Wednesday by Congress, authorizing wide-ranging military spending over the coming year.

Senate approved the bipartisan 2022 National Defense Authorization Act by a vote of 89-10. It sent the legislation to President Joe Biden. Each year, the bill passes in some form. The bill includes reforms to the military’s handling of sexual assaults, as well as an increase of 2.7% for both military personnel and civilian employees of the Department of Defense.

The bill also creates an “Afghanistan War Commission” to evaluate the U.S. military’s presence – and withdrawal from – that nation.

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“The passage of this year’s national defense bill bolsters our security, ensures our nation’s defenders can effectively confront adversaries like Communist China and Russia, and directly benefits Tennessee’s military and research communities,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

The NDAA came after months of wrangling over the debt ceiling, funding for the government, and the infrastructure and “Build Back Better” spending bills. Biden is expected sign the bill, which funds all military activities from salaries to new equipment.

There were several issues with the bill, such as when Republicans tried to add language to protect U.S. military personnel who refused to receive the COVID vaccination.

Lloyd Austin (head of the Department of Defense) announced this year that any service member refusing to get the vaccine could face dismissal. Although they cannot be discharged due to the new NDAA passed by Republicans, it prevents them receiving dishonorable dismissals.

“In addition, this year’s NDAA includes a provision I fought for that removes the ability for the military to dishonorably discharge service members who choose not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said in a statement. “As President Biden’s unlawful vaccine mandates are continually challenged, this reform prevents our brave servicemen and women from being punished like convicted criminals for simply making what they believe is the best medical decision for themselves,” he said.

“I will continue to fight to ensure that service members who refuse the vaccine are not punished for their private healthcare choices,” Cruz added.

The Air Force spokeswoman said that 27 Air Force servicemen were discharged Monday for refusing to take the COVID vaccine. These are not the first discharges, but there will be more. Biden Administration has claimed that servicemembers have not refused to comply with the Mandate.

“My understanding is that 99 percent of the Air Force is in compliance. So, we’re talking about less than 1 percent, which – to us, the story is that it’s more than 99 percent who are in compliance,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Tuesday. “I would also note – and they can give you more detail on this – but this is at the end of months of counseling and engagement with those not in compliance about what is required here.”

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An attempt to make women eligible for selective service, also known as the draft, was another controversial provision that didn’t make it into the final version.

“Democrats tried to use the NDAA to draft America’s daughters and force their radical social ideologies onto our troops,” Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said in a statement. “Thankfully, they failed, and this year’s defense bill largely does what it should: support and strengthen our troops.”

The Center Square permission granted this syndicated version.