Fact Check: Biden Did NOT Order Dishonorable Discharge For Troops Who Refused COVID-19 Vaccination

Fact Check

  • by: Lead Stories Staff
Fact Check: Biden Did NOT Order Dishonorable Discharge For Troops Who Refused COVID-19 Vaccination Cannot Order

Did President Joe Biden order dishonorable discharge for 46% of U.S. service members who refused COVID-19 vaccination? No, that's not true: Although the Biden administration opposed sections of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) designed by the 117th Congress related to service members and the military COVID vaccine mandate, the administration did not order service members who oppose COVID vaccination to receive a dishonorable discharge. The president and his administration do not have the authority to make such an order, according to a spokesperson for the National Security Council (NSC).

The claim appeared in an Instagram post on September 27, 2021. It included a screenshot of an article with the headline "Biden Orders Dishonorable Discharge for 46% of Troops Who Refuse Vaccine." The caption of the post begins:

The Biden administration is seeking dishonorable discharges for 46% of troops who refuse to get the Covid-19 mRNA vaccine.

The Pentagon mandated vaccines for all U.S. service members (1.3 million) last month.

However, a reported 600,000 service members have declined to roll up their sleeves for the mRNA vaccines.

This is how the post looked on September 30, 2021:

(Source: Instagram screenshot taken on Thu Sep 30 20:46:17 2021 UTC)

On September 21, 2021, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) issued a statement of administration policy regarding the NDAA. Although the OMB said it "supports enactment of a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for a 61st consecutive year," it did outline various concerns with the act. One of those concerns was about the act's guidance on prohibiting actions against members of the armed forces who declined COVID vaccination, which is a mandatory vaccination. The guidance was located in section 716 of the act. The OMB statement said:

The Administration strongly opposes section 716, which would detract from readiness and limit a commander's options for enforcing good order and discipline when a Service member fails to obey a lawful order to receive a vaccination. To enable a uniformed force to fight with discipline, commanders must have the ability to give orders and take appropriate disciplinary measures.

The OMB statement did not suggest that the Biden administration would require U.S. service members receive a dishonorable discharge if they did not get vaccinated.

In an email to Lead Stories on September 30, 2021, an NSC spokesperson said about the claim:

This is false.

The spokesperson went on:

Military discharges are handled by the respective military services, not the President.

Moreover, related to the COVID-19 vaccine, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby has said as recently as Sept. 24, 'the Secretary (of Defense) has made it clear that this is a lawful order to receive this vaccine; it's mandatory now. That said, he's also made it clear to the entire department that he wants this lawful order to be executed in a fair-minded, compassionate way. And that he knows that commanders have a range of tools available to them, short of using the Uniform Code of Military Justice, short of disciplinary action, to help individuals make the best decision, the right decision for themselves, for their families, and for their teammates.
(Source: Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing, Sept. 24)

Mr. Kirby added, 'The Secretary, as a former soldier and commander himself, understands those rules and responsibilities very well and has every expectation that commanders at local levels will make these decisions based on what's best for them and for their units.'
(Source: Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby Holds a Press Briefing, Sept. 24)

The NSC spokesperson then mentioned the previously referenced OMB statement and said:

In addition, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has noted 'the Department (of Defense) will make available a full range of resources to Service members, including individual and professional medical advice, to demonstrate the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccine and to ensure they are fully informed about vaccination.'

A duty officer from the Defense Press Operations of the Office of the Secretary of Defense also confirmed that the claim was false in an email to Lead Stories on September 30, 2021.

The Instagram post also claimed that at least 46% of service members were not vaccinated. Lead Stories followed up with Defense Press Operations to ask for an exact figure, which we did not receive at the time of writing. However, according to a report published by The New York Times on September 14, 2021, at least 83% of all military service members had received at least one shot of a COVID vaccine. The most recent COVID vaccination data among U.S. service members and U.S. Department of Defense civilians can be found here (archived here).

More coverage from Lead Stories about the U.S. armed forces COVID-19 vaccination mandate can be found here, here and here.

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Lead Stories is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers who are fighting misinformation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more about the alliance here.

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