Sailors who refuse the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine could face a series of administrative actions — on top of being processed for separation — according to the service.
Sailors who reject the vaccine and do not have a pending or approved exemption request could lose out on education benefits, promotions and bonus pay, according to a Navy administrative message released Nov. 15.
“In order to ensure a fully vaccinated force, U.S. Navy policy is to process for separation all Navy service members who refuse the lawful order to receive the COVID-19 vaccination and do not have an approved exemption,” the NAVADMIN said.
Sailors who are denied an administrative exemption, such as a religious waiver, or a medical exemption have five days afterward to take initial steps toward becoming fully vaccinated — or the Navy will start the separation process, according to the message.
The announcement comes after the Navy announced last month it was standing up a COVID Consolidated Disposition Authority to “ensure a fair and consistent process” handling separation determinations for those who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine, and the new NAVADMIN outlines additional administrative actions such sailors may encounter.
Sailors rejecting the COVID-19 vaccine are not eligible to reenlist or extend their enlistment. Commanders must cancel extension agreements if a sailor has an extension agreement that hasn’t taken effect and is also refusing the vaccine, according to the NAVADMIN.
The guidance also instructs commanders to delay the promotions of officers and to withhold advancements for enlisted personnel rejecting the jab.
“Navy service members refusing the vaccine who are in a frocked status should be defrocked as soon as feasible,” the NAVADMIN said.
Additionally, sailors who reject the vaccine have new limitations on bonus or incentive pay.
“Navy service members refusing the vaccine may not enter into any new agreements for bonuses, special pays or incentive pays, and any unearned portion of current bonuses, special pays and incentive pays will be recouped,” the NAVADMIN states.
While most sailors refusing the vaccine will continue performing their assigned duties as separation processing or adjudication is sorted out, commanders may initiate a local reassignment in some cases to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Sailors are not eligible to collect career retention bonuses, enlistment bonuses and incentive pays when they are removed from assignment or separated from the service.
“Bonuses, special pays and incentive pays become unearned when a Navy service member refusing the vaccine is no longer performing duties for which they are receiving such a bonus, special pay, or incentive pay,” the NAVADMIN states.
Furthermore, the guidance stipulates that those who refuse COVID inoculations can no longer receive Navy education opportunities or tuition assistance.
“Those who fail to complete a service obligation incurred for participating in Navy funded full-time, part-time, or off-duty education programs … will be required to reimburse the cost of the education received, prorated for the obligated time served,” according to the message.
A separate NAVADMIN is expected in December directing commanders to the instructions laid out in this message.
Active-duty sailors had to receive their last dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Nov. 14 to meet the Nov. 28 deadline to become fully vaccinated. Those in the Navy Reserve have until Dec. 14 to meet the deadline for fully vaccinated status on Dec. 28.
According to the NAVADMIN, those who have already gotten the ball rolling on becoming fully vaccinated but will not meet their respective deadline should notify their chain of command immediately so the case can be reported. The service can then determine whether to initiate or suspend administrative separation.
“If in doubt as to how to adjudicate issues related to a Navy service member refusing the vaccine, Commanders should seek guidance from their chain of command, their staff judge advocate, and/or the [COVID Consolidated Disposition Authority] before acting,” the NAVADMIN states.
The COVID Consolidated Disposition Authority, headed by Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. John Nowell Jr. and Chief of Naval Reserve Vice Adm. John Mustin, will also move to separate sailors who fail to follow the vaccine mandate. Sailors who don’t comply and are separated only for refusing the vaccine could receive as low as a general discharge under honorable conditions — which could eliminate their eligibility for some veteran benefits.
The Navy says 96 percent of active-duty sailors and 93 percent of the total force are fully vaccinated, while 99.5 percent of active-duty sailors and 96.5 percent of the total force have received at least one COVID-19 shot, according to figures released Nov. 10.
The Navy has signed off on six permanent medical exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine, but it has not approved any religious waiver requests.
Permanent medical exemptions are given to sailors who are facing a lasting condition such as an allergy to an ingredient in the vaccine, Navy spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Andrew DeGarmo told Navy Times this month.
More than 70 service members across all branches have died due to complications from COVID-19, with at least 15 of those from the Navy, according to Pentagon data updated Nov. 10. The Navy reports that all Navy COVID-19 deaths have been among individuals unvaccinated against virus.