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GOP vows back pay for troops discharged over vaccine mandate

 (NewsNation) — A group of Republican lawmakers is determined to ensure back pay for military troops who were discharged after refusing the COVID-19 vaccine. 

The Pentagon rescinded its COVID-19 vaccine mandate earlier this month, but so far has refused to provide back pay to the more than 8,400 troops who were ousted from the military when the requirement was in place.

 Now Republicans including Rep. Mike Waltz, R-Fla., say they’ll work to include back pay in the next defense bill if the Pentagon doesn’t take action. 

“We have an obligation to these service members,”  Waltz said.  

Some former service members have said they want their position, rank and benefits fully reinstated. Others may be gone from the military for good. 

“Some of them may choose to not come back because they no longer have trust in their leadership,” said former U.S. Army Lt. Col. Brad Miller. 

Miller is in a unique position since he chose to leave the Army voluntarily — less than one year before he would have been eligible for retirement. Still, he said if had to go back, he’d make the same decision without reservation. 

 “But that doesn’t mean that it’s been easy and it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t come at a great cost,” Miller said. “It has — financially.”  

Others, like former Army service member Matt Marecic, didn’t choose to leave on their own. 

“I’m married with two children and it’s definitely hard for them to say … go find another job,” Marecic said.  

He shared the concerns of some lawmakers that the mandate had compounded the military’s recruitment and retention struggles.  

However, Retired Lt. Gen. Richard Newton said the vaccine mandate was a lawful command, and that those who didn’t get the vaccine disobeyed orders. 

“Our men and women are all volunteers … they will obey the order. … This is not like working in the supermarket,” Newton told NewsNation last month while the mandate was still in place.  

About 96% of service members — both active and reserve — were vaccinated when the mandate was dismissed, according to the Department of Defense.  

The department continues to encourage vaccination against COVID-19, a representative said Friday in an emailed statement to NewsNation.