Marines will lose their pensions, tuition assistance, and access to the G.I. bill, along with other military benefits, if they refuse the COVID-19 vaccination, according to internal emails reviewed by the Washington Free Beacon.
An Aug. 18 email from Col. Teague Pastel, a commanding officer at the Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., told colleagues that although "vaccines are still voluntary," the military believes "they will become mandatory in the near future." The penalties for refusing the coronavirus vaccination, Pastel wrote, should be in line with others for insubordination. Those penalties include "administration separation," a demerit in the Marine's personal file, as well as the forfeiture of various retirement and financial benefits.
"Please continue engaging with our troops on the importance of vaccinating, and stress that it is still voluntary at this time. However, once the vaccine becomes mandatory they need to be prepared to separate and potentially lose benefits," Pastel's email reads. "If the Marines are not willing to lose the benefits then they should just get the vaccine now."
Pastel sent the email prior to the Food and Drug Administration's Monday move to approve the Pfizer vaccine, which opened the door for the military to mandate it for its members. The Pentagon announced the vaccine mandate within hours of FDA approval.
Although military officials, including Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Mark Milley, previously discussed mandating the vaccine, how they planned on implementing it remained unknown. The memo obtained by the Free Beacon describes how the armed forces plans to use a variety of draconian measures to make life as an unvaccinated troop as difficult as possible.
"As you continue engaging with your Marines and Sailors about volunteering to get the vaccine now instead of waiting, please ensure they know the anticipated ramifications of refusing to vaccinate," Pastel says in the memo. He then says those who decline the vaccination will lose out on tuition assistance, "Post 9/11 G.I. Bill" benefits, as well as retirement contributions and credits.
The Marine Corps did not respond to a request for comment.
The Pentagon says more than one million troops are fully vaccinated, with another 237,000 receiving one dose. The percentage of those vaccinated by branch varies greatly, according to the military's latest numbers. The Department of the Navy, of which the Marines are a part, says 74 percent of its members have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Other branches of the military have struggled to get their members vaccinated, with the Air Force seeing over 65 percent of its active force at least partially vaccinated. The Army has the lowest vaccination rate at around 50 percent.