Cyprus US Training

A U.S. Navy SEAL special forces operator, front, and colleagues during a joint U.S.-Cyprus military drill at Limassol port on Friday, Sept. 10, 2021.

(The Center Square) – President Joe Biden’s federal vaccine mandate sparked controversy among Americans, but one of the nation’s most elite fighting forces may be hit harder than other groups by the new requirement.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced in August, with Biden’s approval, that all U.S. service members must receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The decision came after the Pfizer vaccine received full approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

That mandate, though, leaves many U.S. troops facing a tough personal decision. Just the News reported this week that hundreds of Navy SEALs have been told they will not be deployed if they don't receive the vaccine and will no longer be able to serve as a Navy SEAL.

“We generally have about 2,500 Navy SEALs,” said Robert O’Neill, a former Navy SEAL who claims to have killed Osama Bin Laden in Operation Neptune Spear. “It takes time to get to certain levels. Hundreds are leaving because of nonsense.”

Some on the right have lambasted Biden for his vaccine mandate both for civilians and service members.

“This is wrong for national security,” Missouri’s former governor, Eric Greitens, a Republican, said. “The only people who will benefit from destroying the combat capacity of Naval Special Operations are the Taliban, Russia, China and other adversaries around the world. This is also wrong at a human level.”

U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., raised the alarm about a mass exodus from the military this summer. He said in July that several service members had told him that resignations would come if the vaccine was mandated.

“According to the GAO and congressional testimony, there were similar results (departures) when the military mandated the anthrax vaccine,” said Massie, who introduced legislation that would “prohibit any requirement that a member of the Armed Forces receive a vaccination against COVID-19.”

In response to the vaccine mandate, several Republican senators introduced legislation this week that would prohibit the Department of Defense from issuing service members a dishonorable discharge for refusing to be vaccinated.

U.S. Sens. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., Ted Cruz, R-Texas, James Lankford, R-Okla., and Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., expressed support for the legislation.

“As a physician and veteran who is confident that the vaccine has saved countless lives, I believe vaccinating our servicemembers against COVID-19 is an important effort; however, whether or not to receive the vaccine should be a personal choice between an individual and their doctor,” Marshall said. “Servicemembers who refuse to get vaccinated, and are subsequently separated from the service, should not receive anything other than an honorable discharge. There is no question about it: American heroes should not be treated as felons because of their personal medical choices.”

Being dishonorably discharged has implications for service members, including stripping their rights to own a firearm and use the GI Bill for education. A dishonorable discharge also prevents them from federal health and housing benefits normally available to veterans.

“It’s an insult to our servicemen and women who have served with honor to dishonorably discharge them for refusing the COVID vaccine,” Cruz said. “It is the same way we dishonorably discharge those convicted of serious crimes such as treason, desertion, sexual assault, and murder. Forcing all service members, including pregnant women and those who have already had COVID-19, to receive the vaccine is just one more example of President Biden and his administration putting politics ahead of science.”

For now, though, no legislation has been passed, but Biden is still taking criticism from those on the right, many of whom have military roots.

“Biden's latest disaster just made us all less safe…” said Jessie Jane Duff, a 2020 Trump advisor who served as a Gunnery Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps.

D.C. Bureau Reporter

Casey Harper is a Senior Reporter for the Washington, D.C. Bureau. He previously worked for The Daily Caller, The Hill, and Sinclair Broadcast Group. A graduate of Hillsdale College, Casey's work has also appeared in Fox News, Fox Business, and USA Today.