The Department of Defense agreed to settle two lawsuits filed by service members who challenged the department’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
The mandate was rescinded in January of 2023 after Congress made terminating the policy a requirement under the National Defense Authorization Act 2023.
According to the settlement, the Defense Department will pay the law firm representing the plaintiffs $1.8 million to cover legal fees incurred during the course of Navy SEALs 1-26 v. Biden and Colonel Financial Management Officer, et al. v. Austin.
“This Agreement has been entered into by Plaintiffs and Defendants solely for the purposes of compromising potentially disputed claims for an award of attorney’s fees, cost, and other litigation expenses in the Civil Action without protracted legal proceedings and avoiding the expense and risk of litigation regarding such an award,” states the terms of the settlement. “Therefore, this Agreement is not intended and shall not be deemed an admission by any Party of merit or lack of merit of an opposing Party’s claims or defense.”
“Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, this Agreement does not constitute, and shall not be construed as, an admission of liability or fault on the part of the Defendants or the United States or their present or former officials, employees or agents, or as an admission of any contested fact alleged by Plantiffs in connection with Plantiffs’ request for an award of attorney’s fees, costs, and other litigation expenses arising from the Civil Action,” the agreement states.
The firm, Liberty Counsel, sued Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in the fall of 2021 after he mandated that all service members get the COVID-19 vaccines.
“The military COVID shot mandate is dead,” said Mat Staver, the chairman of Liberty Counsel, in a statement. “Our heroic service members can no longer be forced to take this experimental jab that conflicts with their religious convictions. These heroes should not have been mistreated by our own government.”
“At the same time, we have come to realize that many of the high-ranking members of leadership, the Pentagon, and the Biden administration need to be replaced,” Staver added. “Collectively, they dishonored the brave men and women who defend our freedom. We stand ready to defend our defenders of freedom if any religious discrimination occurs in the future.”
Pentagon press secretary John Kirby told reporters in August of 2021 that Austin was “prepared to issue updated guidance requiring all service members to be vaccinated.”
“These efforts ensure the safety of our service members and promote the readiness of our force, not to mention the health and safety of the communities around the country in which we live,” Kirby said, per The Hill.
The policy required the approximately 1.3 million service members to get the COVID-19 injection under threat of administrative and disciplinary action. The Defense Department already required service members to get vaccinations for measles, mumps, diphtheria, hepatitis, smallpox and the flu. As the policy took effect, very few religious exemptions were granted to military members who requested to be excused from taking the shot.
The policy was challenged in federal court. In January of 2022, Texas district Judge Jeffrey Brown ruled the Biden administration did not have the legal authority to enforce a vaccine mandate for federal employees – which prompted the Defense Department to pause its mandate pending legal review.
“DoD has not yet released its policy for firing or otherwise disciplining any of its 950,000 civilian employees who refuse to be vaccinated, though exemption requests have been processed,” noted Military Times at the time.