FIRST ON THE DAILY SIGNAL—More and more Army soldiers are reenlisting after being discharged for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine, according to information shared exclusively with The Daily Signal.

The increase comes after Congress repealed the Pentagon’s vaccine mandate and conservative lawmakers applied pressure to Defense Department leaders to be more welcoming of 8,400 service members who were “fired” for their refusal to get the COVID-19 shot.

As of October, only 19 soldiers had returned to the Army. That number grew to 57 this month. Even though the number tripled over the past two months, it represents just 3% of the 1,903 soldiers who were kicked out of the Army under its vaccine mandate.

“I’m glad that we were able to remove the COVID-19 vaccine mandate last Congress, but there is more work to do,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who in January introduced what he calls the AMERICANS Act to ensure service members would be welcomed back if they chose to reenlist.


In February, Army Secretary Christine Wormuth announced the Army’s plans for complying with Congress’ repeal of the vaccine mandate. Since then, however, the Army has struggled to reenlist soldiers who were forced to leave when they didn’t get the shot.

The vaccine-related dismissals, combined with recruiting woes, have led to staffing concerns in the military. Three branches—the Army, Air Force, and Navy—missed their recruiting targets for 2023. The Army recruited 55,000 but its goal was 65,000, so it fell short by 10,000 active-duty soldiers.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin implemented the military’s COVID-19 vaccine requirement in August 2021 (read his memo below). It prompted backlash not only from within the military itself but also from members of Congress. While some service members rejected the vaccine because of their sincerely held religious beliefs, others worried about the vaccine’s safety and how it was developed and quickly approved.

The Heritage Foundation’s National Independent Panel on Military Service and Readiness, chaired by Rep. Mike Waltz, R-Fla., issued a report in March citing the COVID-19 vaccine mandate as an impediment to recruitment and retention. (The Daily Signal is Heritage’s news outlet.)

As a result of changing conditions on the ground, the COVID-19 vaccine mandate became more detrimental than beneficial to military readiness. Every servicemember separated from service or formally restricted from operations is also not deployable, which reduces overall readiness. The cumulative effect of the vaccine mandate has equated to entire divisions no longer available for deployment.

The panel faulted military leaders for not reconsidering the vaccine mandate as conditions changed and for letting politics contribute to their decisions. This led to “a diminished amount of trust between leaders and subordinates.”

That’s one of the reasons Cruz introduced the AMERICANS Act—to ensure service members would be welcomed back if they chose to reenlist. Rep. Dan Bishop, R-N.C., introduced a companion bill in the House.


“The COVID vaccine mandate is gone, and our military is undermanned at a critical time,” Cruz said in a written statement to The Daily Signal. “We should be welcoming unvaccinated servicemen and women who want to come back into our armed forces with open arms.”

Cruz’s legislation, which has 20 co-sponsors in the Senate, would credit service members for their involuntary separation in retirement pay, restore their rank, compensate them for lost pay and benefits due to their demotion, adjust their “general” discharge to “honorable,” along with other measures. (Read the full text of the bill.)

“This shouldn’t be controversial,” Cruz said. “The military is struggling with recruitment, yet it kicked out over 8,400 service members over [President Joe] Biden’s vaccine mandate. We must right this wrong. I will continue to fight until we deliver justice for wrongfully dismissed service members.”


Of the 57 soldiers who returned to the Army, 53 are on active duty and four are with the Army Reserve.

“Our military continues to feel the effects of the Biden administration’s reckless, misguided, and now-prohibited vaccine mandates,” Cruz told The Daily Signal. “The AMERICANS Act would correct the wrongs done to unvaccinated service members who were discharged for exercising their conscience.”

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