The DOD mismanaged the Covid mandatory vaccine program, which degraded morale and negatively affected recruitment goals.

Originally appeared at Brownstone Institute

[Lt Gen Rod Bishop USA (ret) and MG Joe Arbuckle USA (ret) assisted with this article.]

The 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) rescinded the DOD’s mandatory Covid 19 vaccine policy, providing an opportunity to refocus the military on its primary responsibilities and objectives. With recruitment goals at a 50-year low and desperate hopes that the “Top Gun” sequel would regenerate the desire to serve, it serves no purpose to compound the crisis by punishing those who in good faith refused to receive an experimental vaccine.

From the outset the vaccine program has been controversial and fraught with ambiguity. Members of the armed services, who are young and healthy, bear little risk of severe disease, and the vaccine does not protect them against infection or transmission. The normal 10-year safety trial period for gene therapy products was condensed to months, and soon the mRNA vaccine garnered a higher incidence of adverse side effects than all other vaccines combined since 1990. 

Efficacy questions aside, from the initiation of the DOD vaccine program in August 2021 until its conclusion in January 2023, confusion and mixed messages relating to its legality abounded within the armed services. Which vaccine product was actually administered—the FDA-approved Comirnaty version ordered by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin or the Bio-N-Tech Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) product? Unknown to most military service members, the legal Comirnaty vaccine was unavailable to the public, so in defiance of Austin’s directive, the DOD instituted a comprehensive vaccine program using the illegal EUA version

On Jan 10, 2023 the Secretary of Defense formally annulled the vaccine mandate for members serving in the military, but failed to address the 8,100 service men and women already discharged for refusing the vaccine, 46 percent of whom received honorable discharges and 54 percent general discharge under honorable conditions. Enlisted personnel, who represent most of those separated, generally lack the financial resources and access to legal assistance to contest DOD action.  

In the aftermath of the NDAA, the DOD continues to construct obstacles for those service members who have not received the Covid vaccine. In his testimony to Congress, Under Secretary of Defense Gilbert Cisneros, who launched his political career after winning the $266 million Mega Million jackpot in 2010, stated that 16,000 active duty members could be separated unless they apply for an exemption. This is not a necessary condition if the vaccine is no longer required under the new law. A Navy military separations board concluded in May 2022 that the plaintiff was within his rights to refuse vaccination without requesting an exemption, since the FDA-approved Comirnaty vaccine was not available. 

In a February 2023 memo from the Office of the Secretary of Defense to Congressmen Jim Banks and Mike Rogers, Secretary Cisneros acknowledged the DOD’s intent to impose impediments to both separated and active duty personnel who refused the Covid vaccine. He cited the act of refusing to obey lawful orders and existing laws as the justification for the hardline policy.  

Specifically, separated members by law with few exceptions must refund unearned bonuses and incentive pay and are not eligible for back pay. The DOD will not proactively assist members to correct records or return to active duty. The DOD will not establish a blanket waiver for those who did not request a vaccine exemption, but assess each on a laborious case-by-case basis.

Patriotism, adventure, camaraderie, and family tradition motivate men and women to risk their lives and spend long periods of time away from loved ones—all for long hours and modest pay. As this pool dwindles to dangerously low proportions, the DOD elects to fight a battle that antagonizes those who profess this ethos. 

What is to be gained when at best the defense establishment will achieve a Pyrrhic victory? The DOD’s stance that the failure to comply with an order to receive a EUA vaccine with a high risk-to-benefit profile is equivalent to refusing a combat order provides further evidence of the rigid, unrealistic personnel policies promulgated by highest levels of leadership. 

The lack of trust in senior military leadership has been identified as the biggest threat to national security. Disengagement from the welfare of subordinates and dishonesty are two factors which have eroded the military’s image in the eyes of the public. Recently STARRS, a military-oriented organization based on the precepts of “Ability not Appearance, Unity not Division, and Service not Self,” compiled a 24-page list of quotations, “What Military People Are Saying.” 

The observations are painful to read, as the respondents give reasons why they no longer choose to serve in the military or why they would not recommend it as a career. The DOD’s mandatory Covid vaccine policy and the failure to consider religious accommodations are frequently cited. 

General Colin Powell observed, “Leadership is solving problems. The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help or concluded you do not care. Either is a failure of leadership.”  

Intransigence and the propensity to deny fault represent a command style that will not reverse the current recruiting catastrophe or the ability of the military to fulfill its mission. Soldiers, sailors, and airmen are among the nation’s most valuable assets, and they are choosing to leave the ranks or select alternate professions.   

The DOD mismanaged the Covid mandatory vaccine program, which degraded morale and negatively affected recruitment goals.  Now is the time to rectify these abuses and welcome rather than punish those men and women who choose to serve the country but exercised their rights under the Nuremberg Code.  Exerting financial pressure, failing to offer administrative services, and ostracizing these service members will discourage enlistments and further erode the public’s confidence in the United States military. 

West Point’s Honor Code is simple and clear. Engraved on a wall in the Thayer Walk Honor Plaza, it states, “A cadet will not lie, cheat, steal, or tolerate those who do.” In May 2020, 73 cadets were accused of cheating on a calculus exam. Of these, 6 cadets resigned during the investigation, 4 cadets were acquitted, and 2 cases against cadets were dropped. Of the 61 ‘found’ guilty of cheating, 8 were expelled, 2 were turned back 6 months, and the remaining 51 were turned back one year. 45 of the accused were athletes, and of these, 24 were football players. “A few have played in football games this season after having been accused of cheating. Some of those players [were able to] dress and play in the [2021] Liberty Bowl on Thursday, according to Army Lt. Col. Christopher Ophardt, a West Point spokesman [at the time in 2021].”1 Amazingly, the Superintendent at the time, a former Army football player, allowed the football players to continue playing during the investigation. In another era, when West Point’s graduates actually won wars, the cadets would have been tried before the Honor committee and, if ‘found’ guilty, expelled immediately.

In December 2021, a West Point cadet quietly graduated late and is now an officer in the Army. Unofficial reports indicated that the cadet was the subject of an honor code investigation and educational vignette in which the cadet stole a watch from the PX and was caught on camera. The same Superintendent, LTG Darryl Williams, apparently allowed the cadet to graduate. When questioned by Class of 1962 graduates at a reunion in 2022, he stated he had no knowledge of the event. In another era, cadets who stole would be tried by the Honor committee and, if ‘found’ guilty, would have been promptly expelled.

Fast forward to November 2022. Just days after subjecting a contingent of several hundred West Point cadets to extreme COVID-19 risks at the West Point/Air Force Academy Football game in a Texas stadium with 33,000+ fans (many unvaccinated), West Point’s current Superintendent (LTG Steven Gilland) moved to order the remaining unvaccinated cadets to get vaccinated or face expulsion. The cadets applied for and were denied an exemption on religious grounds. The cadets now face UCMJ administrative action that can include involuntary separation under either Honorable Conditions or General Under Honorable Conditions. The latter means the cadets, if discharged from West Point and the Army could face job discrimination for the remainder of their lives, similar to soldiers who are discharged for serious infractions or crimes.

LTG Gilland assumed duties as the Superintendent in June 2022. He was not Superintendent during the above-listed scandals involving lying, cheating, and stealing. He also does not control the official Army COVID-19 vaccine policy. He does, however, have the authority and influence to help those in his command obtain waivers. He clearly has shown no interest in granting waivers to cadets having religious objections under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment of the US Constitution. He owes cadets, the Long Gray Line of graduates, and the nation an explanation for why West Point has adopted this upside-down moral directive. Clearly, he and West Point view religious freedom as a worse moral defect than lying, cheating, and/or stealing. These 6 cadets will likely soon become civilians due to their religious beliefs, while the other cadets convicted of lying, cheating, and/or stealing will be officers leading the US Army’s soldiers.

If you would like to weigh in on the issue, consider going to and signing a petition condemning West Point’s misguided moral system.

Petition link:


American Conversations Host Christine Dolan speaks with former US Coast Guard Academy Sophia Galdamez, who recently was discharged after her request for religious exemption to the Covid vaccine mandate was refused, along with six other cadets.

After suing the CDC twice, Aaron Siri, human rights and vaccine attorney for Informed Consent Action Network (ICAN) finally won the lawsuit, forcing the CDC to turn over its V-safe Covid vaccine injury data.

V-safe is a smartphone app created and used by the CDC that offers health evaluations and collects health information from people after they receive the COVID-19 vaccine. According to the CDC, “V-safe provides personalized and confidential health check-ins via text messages and web surveys so you can quickly and easily share with CDC how you, or your dependent, feel after getting a COVID-19 vaccine. This information helps CDC monitor the safety of COVID-19 vaccines in near real-time.”

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ICAN took the 144 million lines of data it received from the CDC and created a visual dashboard to make the data easy to see and interpret. What the data shows is alarming.

Of the over 10 million users who registered with V-safe 3,353,110 were hurt and a staggering 6,458,751 health impacts were reported.

Health impacts were divided into 3 categories:

Participants were able to report multiple health impacts during the initial evaluation and through subsequent evaluations.

The data shows that 7.7% of users required medical care after receiving the vaccine while another 2.5 million, or 25% either had a serious reaction or had to miss work or school.

“Of the 10 million users within V-safe, 7.7% of them had to seek medical care after vaccination. That is an incredibly high percentage, it appears to me,” Siri told Fox News’s Chase Gallagher regarding the V-safe data.

From the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic, members of the armed forces rightfully expected their commanders to ensure their best health options—to adapt to changing conditions and implement optimum treatment plans to assure force readiness. However, the Department of Defense failed to accept that natural immunity provided the best military option and were wholly silent on any therapeutic or preventative treatment plans with the exception of mandatory, universal vaccination of all military personnel. The department, along with their civilian counterparts at FDA, NIH, and CDC, used randomized control trials (RCT) as a cudgel to quell all competing options.

Rather than serving as an impartial tool to advance the understanding of treatment modalities in the battle against Covid 19, RCTs have been used by the FDA and CDC to suppress the ability of doctors to best care for their patients. To the lay public and the less astute in the medical community, RCTs are sacrosanct and their findings beyond reproach. But according to Dr. Harvey Risch, a world renown epidemiologist and Professor Emeritus at Yale, they are easily corrupted and do not yield useful information unless the trials enroll sufficient numbers of patients to identify statistically significant outliers, and the trials are designed to evenly match the placebo and treatment arms.

The FDA’s long history of insisting that time consuming, multiple, and large-scale RCTs be concluded before terminal cancer patients were allowed to access promising, investigational cancer treatments, prompted Congress to pass the 21st Century Cures Act in 2016. Section 3022 of the law mandates that agencies reviewing Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) requests must take into account all available treatments, and RCTs are not a necessary condition for approval.

In 2020 the Henry Ford Hospital conducted studies early in the Covid crisis that showed substantial reductions of hospitalization and death, if hydroxychloroquine was administered during the initial stages of hospitalization. The two petitions for an EUA were denied by the FDA, which demanded multiple, large-scale RCTs showing efficacy before approval. Dr. Risch stated in a September 2022 interview on Viva Frei that this rejection violated the 2016 law that was specifically intended for patients seeking all reasonable therapeutic options during emergency conditions.

Ivermectin similarly was denied EUA status for off-label treatment of Covid-19 despite numerous supportive clinical studies and its contribution to the public health triumph in Uttar Pradesh. Dr. Pierre Kory discussed the global disinformation campaign to discredit the drug in a series presented on his Substack site. One only need enter "Uttar Pradesh-Ivermectin" into a search engine to be inundated with articles disputing all beneficial aspects of Ivermectin in the treatment of Covid-19.

Members of the military were denied all EUA out-patient treatment options as a result of the impossibly high and probably illegal standards set by the FDA. Conversely, in-patient treatments with expensive, patented drugs like Remdesivir, Paxlovid, and Molupiravir were granted rapid EUA despite low patient volume trials showing subtle clinical benefit.

Until a recent Harvard-John Hopkins study that demonstrated an adverse risk-to-benefit profile for Covid vaccinations for college students (an age identical to most personnel entering the military), no studies have been conducted by any major U.S. health agency or academic institution assessing the risks and benefits of the vaccine. For two and half years the agencies tasked with protecting and advising Americans have been silent on the subject.

In an article last week that is symbolic of academic institutions covering their tracts, The New England Journal of Medicinewhich has aggressively and unapologetically supported mask and vaccine mandates, made the following statement:

"We believe the decisions that have been made during this later stage of the pandemic — after the introduction of highly effective vaccines, and when the trade-off between the efficacy and the perceived harms of masking in public spaces was more nuanced — warrant reexamination by public health institutions."

If the medical landscape was so “nuanced,” how can this justify abridging a patient’s right to informed consent, shutting down businesses for arbitrary reasons of public health, promoting the intellectual and emotional stagnation of children with mask mandates, or over emphasizing the benefits and ignoring the risks of the mRNA vaccine used to treat rapidly mutating Omicron variants?

These “highly effective” vaccines fail in their primary purpose to protect against acquisition and transmission of disease. The so-called effectiveness relates to the CDC’s new definition of a vaccine that omits protection and relies on the ability of a vaccine to provoke an immune response.

Health agencies consistently downplay the adverse effects of the mRNA vaccine. VAERS and DMED reports are brushed away as exaggerations, and adverse events are treated like the cost of doing business or simply collateral damage. CDC Director Walensky’s conflicting reply to Senator Ron Johnson's inquiry underscores the agency’s unwillingness or inability to objectively examine the risks of vaccinating the general public and healthy military-aged personnel.

Young males are at particular risk for vaccine induced myocarditis, and as Dr. Risch points out:

“Myocarditis is not mild. The "mild" asymptomatic form damages the myofibrils of the heart and has long term adverse effects on cardiac health. Reports of the incidence of myocarditis, which combines symptomatic and non- symptomatic cases in males in the 18-35 age range, are estimated from 1/4000 to 1/400."

Are mandatory, annual bivalent Covid boosters in store for members of the armed forces? The pharmaceutical companies are maneuvering to have the annual Covid booster automatically treated like the influenza vaccine—no need for extensive trials, just a carte blanche authority to match the annual vaccine with the most current variant and distribute to the general population.

What could go wrong? It’s just collateral damage.

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