The Depot

Is The Military Affected By Shutdowns From COVID-19?

It’s hard to believe, but it's been a while since late 2019 when the COVID-19 pandemic began in China and spread worldwide within months. As the virus spread across the globe, many future recruits found themselves asking is the military affected by shutdown?

Basic and Individual Training
Luckily, creative U.S. military leaders devised multiple plans that included quarantines, reducing training class sizes, social distancing and other steps that the service branches took to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 to trainees. Although many family members of future recruits still asked is the military affected by shutdown, the services quite successfully managed to fight the spread of COVID-19 and keep training on schedule.

And while new recruits found themselves asking in basic and individual training, is the military affected by shutdown, they completed training and marched on in their careers.

Military Operations
Is the military affected by shutdown? Not when it comes to operations. The U.S. military has taken steps to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, but the OPTEMPO of the military has not slowed. The Navy continues its worldwide deployments and other branches of service continue their global rotations. It is a legitimate question though, to ask is the military affected by shutdown?

In fact, even high profile recruiting and awareness operations like the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds have continued their outreach after initially cancelling shows. Is the military affected by shutdown? Operationally speaking, no.

Pay and Benefits
Changes in the way the military carries out its day-to-day operations might have some military members, retirees and veterans asking themselves is the military affected by shutdown? Many federal workers have been asked to telecommute and some services, like records requests and historical support, have been slowed.

But the truth is, despite COVID-19 mitigation protocols, vital services like veteran benefits and military pay have not been impacted. In fact, federal plans stipulate that human life and property be protected no matter what happens during a COVID crisis. Is the military affected by shutdown, not when it comes to veterans and military benefits needed to sustain life.

COVID-19 Vaccine
The Department of Defense has ordered all military members to receive the COVID-19 vaccine and the outcome of that order has yet to be determined. Certainly, some military members will request exemption based on a variety of reasons and their challenges will be scrutinized in legal channels, but for now, is the military affected by shutdown? No, the COVID-19 vaccine has been given widely to many military members and there is no evidence to suggest that a shutdown will be caused by the COVID-19 vaccine. Is the military affected by shutdown because of the COVID-19 vaccine? Nope.

VA Offers COVID Vaccines to all Vets

Doctor giving shot to elderly woman

The Department of Veterans Affairs will soon provide COVID-19 vaccinations to all veterans, their spouses and caregivers regardless of whether or not they receive their healthcare through the VA.

Signed into law at the end of March, the SAVES LIVES Act removed some of the legal limits on the medical care VA can provide to veterans.

“The SAVE LIVES Act increases the number of individuals who are eligible to get lifesaving COVID-19 vaccines from VA from 9.5 million to more than 33 million,” said VA Secretary Denis McDonough in a release. “Meeting the task of vaccinating this expanded population will be a tremendous undertaking for the VA and will require a significant increase in our allocation of vaccine supply, but I am confident that VA’s workforce is up to the task.” 

All veterans, those currently receiving care through the VA or not, can sign up online.  When a vaccine comes available, their local VA facility will notify veterans of appointments or vaccine events availability by phone, text messages from 53079 or e-mail from a e-mail address.

Doctor with syringe

Public Affairs Specialist Joe Williams, Department of Veterans Affairs Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs shared additional information regarding the program.

“Please check out your local VA medical center websites for the latest updates regarding vaccine availability. Several pilot facilities with adequate vaccine supply have already started rollout of the SAVES LIVES Act and it is anticipated the number of VA facilities able to provide vaccination will gradually increase as the allocation of vaccine increases in the coming weeks,” Williams said.

To find a nearby VA medical facility call MyVA411 main information line at 800-698-2411, TTY 711, or go online.

DK McDonald is an award-winning Arizona-based writer. She comes from a multi-generational military family, spanning all branches of service. She is also a former Army spouse.

Medals Authorized for COVID-19 Response

Armed Forces Service Medal and Ribbon

Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Matthew P. Donovan approved the award of the Humanitarian Service Medal and/or the Armed Forces Service Medal to eligible military personnel for qualifying coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) operations and activities. The period of the award is from Jan. 31, 2020 to a date to be determined.

“Given the global nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is no designated area of eligibility, and award authorities determine eligibility based on the nature of the qualifying DoD COVID-19 operation and/or activity,” Donovan’s memo said.

Active duty, reserve and National Guard personnel are eligible for the service medals as outlined in DoD Manual 1348.33, DoD Manual of Military Decorations and Awards — Campaign, Expeditionary, and Service Medals. Award authorities determine which operations and/or activities are humanitarian in nature and warrant award of the Humanitarian Service Medal. Service personnel are not eligible for both the Humanitarian Service Medal and the Armed Forces Service Medal for the same period of service, activities, or deployment.

The Armed Forces Service Medal is authorized for award to service members who deploy for at least 30 days (consecutively or non-consecutively). Donovan’s memo stated that the deployment requirement for the medal is waived for non-deployed service members, provided the service members were reassigned from their regular duties to perform COVID-19 operations or activities for at least 30 days. The Armed Forces Service Medal is authorized after one day of service if the service member contracted the virus.

The Defense Department said that the military department secretaries determine eligibility for award to service members in his or her respective military department based on DoD award criteria. The chief of the National Guard Bureau determines eligibility for National Guard members who do not fall under the purview of a secretary of a military department.  

Service personnel with questions about the Humanitarian Service Medal and the Armed Forces Service Medal should contact their respective military department.

The Humanitarian Service Medal was established in 1977 and it recognizes service members who distinguish themselves by meritorious direct participation in a DoD-approved significant military act or operation of a humanitarian nature. The Humanitarian Service Medal may be awarded to individual Service members, or entire military units. 

The Armed Forces Service Medal is awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces who participate as members of U.S. military units in a military operation that is deemed significant by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and encounter no foreign armed opposition or imminent threat of hostile actions.  

According to U.S. Army Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell, a Department of Defense spokesperson, “DoD has a total of more than 4,500 active duty personnel supporting COVID-19 response. That number includes 461 medical personnel providing direct support in Texas and California hospitals, and a variety of other activities across the country,” Mitchell said. “The National Guard has more than 24,000 Air and Army National Guard members supporting the effort nationwide,” Mitchell said.

As of July 29, 2020, the U.S. military has had 37,824 cases of COVID-19. A total of 58 people died in the Department of Defense from the coronavirus, including military, contractor, civilian and dependent personnel.