It could take more than six months to separate sailors who have refused to get COVID-19 vaccinations, according to Navy officials.
“Let me be clear up front: We want every sailor to receive the vaccine and stay Navy,” Rear Adm. James Waters III, director of military personnel, plans and policy, told reporters Tuesday. “And if a sailor gets their shot, we will honor that and make every effort to retain them.”
While most separations will happen in the first half of 2022, Waters expects some cases to continue past then.
“I will say that we think the bulk of these separations will happen in the time period between now and 1 June, because we are providing that window for anyone eligible to retire or separate in that timeframe to do so. … However, we understand that there will be cases that will go past that point,” Waters said.
The Navy first announced in October that it would move to separate sailors who reject the COVID-19 vaccine and was forming the COVID Consolidated Disposition Authority to oversee those separations.
But a new naval administrative message released Wednesday provides additional details about how sailors who have refused the vaccines — meaning they are unvaccinated and do not have a pending or approved COVID-19 vaccine waiver — will be separated from the service.
The guidance stipulates that sailors who are eligible or already have the green light to retire or separate on or before June 1, 2022, may be granted an expedited process for separation or retirement rather than going through an administrative separation.
“Barring extenuating circumstances, this will result in an HONORABLE characterization of service,” the NAVADMIN said.
Those not eligible to separate or retire before June 1, 2022, will be processed for administrative separation as soon as practical based on misconduct.
Sailors with less than six years of service will be processed for separation with honorable characterization.
“Service members in this category are not entitled to an Administrative Separation (ADSEP) board or a Board of Inquiry,” the NAVADMIN said.
For those with more than six years of service under their belts, the Navy will process them for separation with a general (under honorable conditions) characterization, but the Navy said that “requests to waive Administrative Separation boards or Boards of Inquiry in exchange for HONORABLE characterization of service will generally be favorably endorsed (barring additional misconduct or unique circumstances).”
This deal is being offered to sailors to reach a fully vaccinated force as soon as possible, Waters said.
Commanders will update the COVID Consolidated Disposition Authority in cases where sailors who have become vaccinated after their respective deadline has passed in order “to expedite determination regarding pausing or permanently waiving the administrative actions.”
Since Nov. 14 — the last day sailors had to receive their final COVID-19 vaccine dose to meet the Nov. 28 deadline for full vaccination — more than 900 sailors have become vaccinated, Waters said.
Sailors who have a pending or approved vaccine exemption request will not be processed for separation. If and when a request is denied, sailors will have five days to start the vaccination process or face the separation process. In the interim prior to separation, these sailors will undergo routine COVID-19 testing.
Refusing the vaccine disqualifies officers and enlisted Navy personnel from receiving involuntary separation pay.
“Any unfulfilled obligation due to things like education and bonuses will have to be repaid,” Waters said.
In addition to separating sailors who refuse the vaccine, the service has unveiled other administrative actions it will take against those who fail to receive a COVID-19 vaccine exemption, such as losing out on education benefits, promotions and bonus pay.
The Navy announced in November that unvaccinated sailors will face COVID-19 testing on a weekly basis. That includes those who have received exemptions for the COVID-19 vaccine.
Active duty sailors faced a Nov. 28 deadline to become fully vaccinated, and those in the Navy Reserve had a Dec. 28 deadline.
The service said that 5,731 active duty sailors remain unvaccinated as of Dec. 9. So far, seven permanent medical exemptions, 326 temporary medical exemptions, and 124 administrative exemptions have been approved.
No religious exemptions have been approved, even though 2,705 active duty sailors put in requests for one.