The U.S. military continues to dismiss service members who have refused to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Exact numbers are not known, but what numbers have been reported publicly by various branches of the military total into the thousands.

Dismissed service members are given a general discharge, which can carry a stigma when applying for a job or applying for college. The classification also makes them and their family members ineligible for higher education aid under the GI Bill.

Republican New Jersey Congressman Chris Smith wants those service members to be reinstated without prejudice. For those who do not wish to return to the ranks, he wants their discharge changed to "honorable," and all benefits restored.

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Smith, who represents the 4th Congressional District, has introduced legislation (H.R. 7570) to accomplish both goals.

Smith said the punitive measures of the dismissals were "cruel" and told the Asbury Park Press, "I'm opposed to mandatory across the board for everyone in the armed services."

Vaccines are nothing new to the military. A whole host of inoculations have been required for generations of service members, but the COVID vaccine mandate has been particularly polarizing. Compliance has been high, with the Army reporting 96% of active-duty soldiers have received a full course of vaccination.

The directive has, however, been the subject of multiple lawsuits.

In March, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a lower court injection of the vaccine mandate on religious grounds.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote in defense of the mandate, saying no court act "in a manner that military commanders believe would impair the military of the United States as it defends the American people."

Other lawsuits are still pending.

Smith's legislation, essentially doing away with the vaccine mandate, has been referred to the House Committee on Armed Services but has yet to be scheduled for a hearing. It is not clear how much support the measure will have, especially among Democrats.

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