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Lawyer: Return to military service a challenge after vaccine mandate lifted

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ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — During the COVID-19 pandemic, the US Military required servicemembers to get the vaccine, with very few exceptions. Those refusing were usually given a ‘general discharge’ and had to leave their careers. The vaccine mandate was dropped, and some of those who left service, want to return.

Military Law attorney Sean Timmons with Tully Rinckey PLLC has represented active duty and veterans for 15 years. He said for those separated when they refused the mandatory COVID-19 vaccine, it was a tough choice.

“They ruined 10,000-plus careers by sabotaging people’s livelihoods, throwing them out arbitrarily,” he said.

He said quite a few want back in now that the pandemic has waned and COVID vaccine requirements were lifted by the Department of Defense back in January.

“Everyone else is kind of withering at the recruiting station to see if they’re going to be eligible to get back in, because they have to go back through the screening process,” he said.

Timmons said that includes background checks, physical fitness standards, and for some getting security clearances back, a process that takes months or years.

“And you might not meet the criteria anymore to enter,” he said, adding, “It’s really been about fighting for your life if you want to bring in all weapons available to save your career.”

And your old career might not have a slot. You could go back into wherever they need you. And with recruiting such a challenge over the past few years, he thinks that will now correct itself since the mandate has been dropped.

“The recruiting numbers should improve now that the vaccine requirement’s been removed. But the whole process itself ruined the reputation of military service for a large number of people.”

But this fight for those let go, Timmons says, is far from over.

“The Department of Justice is still fighting us in litigation with multiple cases, so it could go on for years, especially if it gets tied up in the appellate courts,” he said.

Timmons also said those let go due to refusing the vaccines were given ‘general discharges:’ less than honorable but above dishonorable. He said those can now be changed to ‘honorable discharges’ and he encourages veterans to get that fixed.

To get that discharge changed, we do have several military law firms in the Rochester region that can help.

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