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Repeal of military vaccine mandate comes months after 13 Investigates USAFA cadet dismissal coverage

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (KRDO) -- It's been five months since 13 Investigates profiled multiple U.S. Air Force Academy cadets who were "dismissed" from service for remaining unvaccinated against COVID in violation of a Department of Defense mandate.

The vaccine mandate for military members has been in place since August 2021 after the Department of Defense (DOD) declared the "emergency use authorization" shot as a requirement for military service. Three senior cadets at the Air Force Academy defied that order and were denied graduation and commissioning to the Air Force.

Months later, the cadets were allowed to get their degrees, but by then, their May graduation was in the rearview mirror. Jameson Barnard, one of the refusing cadets, has since moved onto a civilian engineering job and told 13 Investigates he has no interest in returning to service his country.

Last week, both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate voted to approve a new Defense Authorization Act, which in addition to repealing the vaccine mandate, will provide service members with a 4.6 percent pay increase.

However, the DOD's mandate is still being challenged in multiple federal lawsuits, including a lawsuit profiled by 13 Investigates back in July involving members of the Coast Guard and Air Force Academy in South Carolina District Court.

"We would expect for our lawsuit in South Carolina, the folks that we represent, a number of cadets, for example, at West Point, at Air Force, those folks and some active duty Air Force people, those folks are likely to see their cases dismissed when the law gets passed and takes effect," federal attorney John Michels said.

Michels argues that his lawsuit and several others in Ohio and Florida put pressure on federal lawmakers to take a closer look at the effects of the vaccine mandate and strongly consider eliminating it.

"You're not supposed to be ordering people to take those shots without informed consent that that's obviously the basis for our lawsuit and the basis for several other lawsuits," Michels said. "I think the litigation caused a number of people to go back to the military and say, what are you guys doing? Are you sure this is right?"

As someone with years of experience in litigation on behalf of military members, Michels told 13 Investigates pealing the vaccine mandate has to be a relief for many who viewed it as unconstitutional.

"I think for the people who were the refusers, I think this will be an ultimate you know, this is a win," Michels said. "They've suffered a lot. They've been put under a lot of pressure. They've been accused of being disloyal. They've been accused of not understanding their constitutional commitments."

13 Investigates reached out to the USAFA for comment on how the Defense Authorization Act becoming law would impact those who remain unvaccinated at the Academy. A spokesperson said they cannot comment on pending legislation.

Monday during a press briefing, White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Biden will sign the legislation, even though there are parts of it that the Biden administration disagrees with. Jean-Pierre did not say when that signing will be.

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Sean Rice

Sean is reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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