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Navy Updates Guidance for COVID-19 Vaccine Refusal

15 November 2021

From MC1 Mark D. Faram, Chief of Naval Personnel Public Affairs.

The Navy issued follow-on guidance to commands for service members who refuse to comply with the service's order mandating all active-duty and reserve members be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 in NAVADMIN 256/21, released on Nov. 15.

This latest guidance outlines for commanders the administrative actions required for those who refuse to comply with the Navy's vaccine mandate.

Currently, 95 percent of the active-duty force is fully vaccinated, and over 99 percent have received at least one shot in the series. The Navy's deadline for full vaccination is Nov. 28. 

Since COVID-19 vaccines became available in late 2020, the Navy's stated policy has always been to achieve a fully vaccinated force to ensure the service's readiness.

The vaccination became mandatory in August at the direction of the Secretary of Defense. Now, as with many other vaccines, COVID-19 immunization is required for full medical and deployment qualification.

"In order to ensure a fully vaccinated force, it is U.S. Navy policy to separate all Navy service members who refuse the lawful order to receive the COVID-19 vaccination," Vice Adm. John B. Nowell, Jr., the chief of naval personnel wrote, in the message. "The least favorable characterization of service for Navy service members refusing the vaccine, without extenuating circumstances, will be GENERAL (under honorable conditions)." 

A general discharge will, at the discretion of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), result in the loss of eligibility for some VA benefits such as the GI Bill, to include the transfer of GI Bill benefits to dependents.

The service is currently reviewing medical and religious COVID-19 vaccine exemption requests. Sailors requesting these exemptions will not be processed for separation or be subject to administrative consequences for refusal while their request is being adjudicated.

However, if operational readiness and mission requirements require, commanders can temporarily reassign Sailors with the approval of the first flag officer in their chain of command.

If denied an exemption, Sailors must start vaccinations within five days of receiving that disapproval. Beyond that deadline, commands will begin processing them for discharge. Decisions on whether to suspend or go ahead with separation after that deadline will be made by the Navy's Consolidated Disposition Authority (CCDA).

Commands should start preparing for administrative separations for any Navy service members refusing the vaccine in their ranks. However, commands must hold the paperwork locally until further guidance is issued on when to send the requests. That information will be released in a future NAVADMIN at the beginning of December.

Within thirty days after refusing the vaccine, commands must issue adverse fitness reports and evaluations documenting service members' failure to comply with the Navy's Individual Medical Readiness responsibilities.

This adverse performance report triggers several cascading impacts on Navy service members refusing the vaccine.

Both enlisted and officers who refuse the vaccine will no longer be eligible to promote or advance, meaning anyone already frocked to the next pay grade will see that privilege revoked immediately.

Spot promoted officers will be removed from their billets. The message states that officers with pending promotions will see those actions put on hold because of "pending administrative action and physical disqualification."

For enlisted Sailors, passing the deadline initially puts any pending advancements on hold. This includes automatic time-in-grade advancements to paygrades E-2 and E-3, and ultimate advancements to those frocked to E-4 through E-9. Once the adverse evaluation is issued, these advancements become permanently revoked because the evaluation removes their advancement recommendation.

Refusing the vaccine also results in the service member no longer being eligible to re-enlist or extend. As a result, any pending agreements will be canceled.  

Navy service members refusing the vaccine will not be allowed to transfer on Permanent Change of Station moves. Affected commands and individuals should contact Navy Personnel Command (NPC) or their detailer directly. NPC will address each case individually, including those who have already begun the transfer process.

Also, those refusing the vaccine are no longer eligible for bonuses and special or incentive pays. Repayment will be required for any unearned portions already received. Some examples include, but are not limited to, career retention bonuses, enlistment bonuses and incentive pays such as flight or dive pay. 

Removal of warfare qualifications, additional qualification designations, Navy Enlisted Classifications, or sub-specialties for Navy service members refusing the vaccine is also possible. Any such decisions, the message states, will be up to the community sponsors and in line with existing policies set for service members not maintaining their deployment or individual medical readiness. 

Vaccine refusal has a broad impact on education programs, including losing eligibility for Tuition Assistance (TA) and the Department of Defense's Skillbridge training program for transitioning service members.

Those using TA will either lose command approval for upcoming classes or be withdrawn from classes that have already started.

Vaccine refusal also impacts Initial entry and in-service Navy paid education programs for officers. These include U.S. Naval Academy, Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps and Health Professional Scholarship Program graduates who have yet to complete their initial obligated service. These Navy service members will be on the hook for a pro-rated portion of their education costs.

Others who received specialized Navy Training could be subject to reimbursement on a case by case basis.

"If in doubt as to how to adjudicate issues related to a Navy service member refusing the vaccine, seek guidance from your chain of command, your staff judge advocate, or the CCDA before acting," Nowell wrote. "In all cases, you are accountable to ensure the health and safety of your command while treating every Navy service member with dignity and respect."

Details on these topics and more are available in NAVADMIN 256/21.

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