In January, Bill Borowsky Jr. was discharged from the Marine Corps for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccination.
Now the lifelong Point Pleasant resident is supporting a bill introduced by Republican U.S. Rep. Chris Smith that would require reinstatement of service members who opted not to be vaccinated.
The bill (H.R. 7570) seeks “to establish certain protections for individuals involuntarily separated from the Armed Forces solely on the basis of refusing to receive vaccinations against COVID-19,” according to the proposed legislation, which Smith introduced in the House of Representatives last week.
“I believe in voluntary vaccinations,” Smith said in a phone interview. “I’m opposed to mandatory across the board for everyone in the armed services.” See the video above for more about the requirement that the U.S. military receive the vaccine.
The 21-year-old Borowsky received a “general discharge under honorable conditions,” which is a notch below an honorable discharge but above a dishonorable discharge. He said he declined to receive the vaccination out of concerns over its safety.
“There are no long-term studies about it,” he said.
According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, as of May 2, 66.2% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated and more than 77% of the population has received at least one dose. The CDC asserts that “COVID-19 vaccines were developed using science that has been around for decades…were evaluated in tens of thousands of participants in clinical trials” and met the Food and Drug Administration’s scientific standards for “safety, effectiveness, and manufacturing quality.”
More than 991,000 Americans have died as a result of COVID-19 since the virus was first detected in the U.S. The CDC has found that “vaccines reduce the risk of COVID-19, including the risk of severe illness and death among people who are fully vaccinated.”
As of mid-March, according to a U.S. Naval Institute report, the Marine Corps had discharged more than 1,000 Marines for refusal to get the COVID vaccine. That’s .57% of the 180,000 active duty members of the Marine Corps.
Borowsky, a standout wrestler at Point Pleasant High School whose father Bill Borowsky is a member of the borough council, enlisted in the Marines upon graduating in 2019. He served in North Carolina, Japan and South Korea.
“When I heard (the vaccine) was going to be mandated, some of us were like, ‘Yeah I’m not going to get that,’” he said.
He said he didn’t view it as a refusal to follow orders.
“You stand up for what you believe in,” Borowsky said. “To me it wasn’t an order. It was a political agenda that got pushed.”
Said Smith, “They have issued this order, but it’s not beyond scrutiny. I think it’s an egregiously flawed order.”
Service members are required to be vaccinated for various illnesses. “Vaccines are essential to the Medically Ready Force,” according to the website of the Military Health System.
Borowsky now works at his father’s business, Nature’s Reward Farm Market in Point Pleasant. He said he is leaning against rejoining the Marines if given the opportunity.
“The next chapter of my life has already started,” he said. “It’s not just about me. It’s about everyone else who got discharged. Fortunately I had something to fall back on. I think about the people who don’t have those opportunities and need the job.”
Smith’s bill would mandate that those discharged for declining the vaccine be reenlisted at their same rank and grade if they elect to return to the military.
For the discharged who elect not to return, Smith’s bill would upgrade the condition of their discharge to honorable. General discharge recipients are ineligible for educational benefits under the post-9/11 GI bill, which can be transferred to immediate family members if unused by the veteran.
“For so many men and women in uniform, this has been a retention incentive,” Smith said. “Under the general (discharge) you lose it, and that is cruel.”
Smith said the general discharge also carries a stigma on a resume.
“It could make the difference between getting a job and not getting a job,” he said.
Even though he likely would not return to the Marines if given the opportunity, Borowsky wanted to lend his voice to the bill.
“At first, I wanted to push this aside and be done with it, but then I thought about it,” he said. “I could possibly speak for the people who can’t be heard on this. It’s bigger than me and what I want.”