House Democrats on the Rules Committee this week blocked an amendment offered by Rep. Chris Smith that would protect U.S. service members at grave risk of losing their GI Bill educational benefits as a result of President Biden’s COVID vaccine mandate, denying it a vote by the full House of Representatives.
“Tens of thousands of our Nation’s brave men and women in uniform are in danger of being forced out of service and robbed of their hard-earned educational benefits simply because they have medical concerns or moral objections about the COVID vaccine,” said Smith, who testified in front of the House Rules Committee on Tuesday on his amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2023.
“This is no way to treat our courageous service members who put their lives on the line and sacrifice so much to preserve and defend our freedoms and security,” said Smith, who also authored and introduced legislation (H.R. 6288) to protect the hard-earned benefits of service members as a standalone bill last December.
Smith’s amendment would improve language enacted in last year’s NDAA, which currently permits a general discharge—rather than “honorable”—for any service member who objects to the COVID vaccine. Service members with this general discharge status do not retain the educational benefits they have earned and are likely to face unfair questions from future potential employers who see the less-than-honorable discharge listed on their résumé.
“My amendment provides needed protections for U.S. service members by ensuring that their discharge is nothing less than honorable so that they can access the GI bill benefits they are owed for their noble service to our country,” said Smith.
Similar to his standalone bill, Smith’s amendment:
Requires no less than an honorable discharge or dismissal for service members who do not wish to take the COVID vaccine, in order to retain their otherwise eligible pensions and benefits—including and especially educational assistance such as G.I. bills; and
Requires upgrading service men and women previously discharged or dismissed for not getting the COVID vaccine to an honorable discharge or dismissal
A staunch advocate for those who serve in uniform, Smith is also the author of legislation—H.R. 7570—that would require top-ranking military officials to reinstate U.S. service members seeking to return to duty after being forcibly discharged over Biden’s COVID vaccine mandate.
Smith, who believes that COVID vaccines should be voluntary, said H.R. 7570 would ensure that those forcibly discharged for objecting to the COVID vaccines are re-enlisted at their same rank and grade. His legislation came in response to meetings he had with constituents who were involuntary separated from the military because of Biden’s vaccine mandate.
“No one should lose their jobs or pensions because they do not want the COVID vaccine—especially those who step up to defend the very freedoms we enjoy in this great Nation,” Smith said.