Attorney: DOD vaccine mandate settlement does not affect Wright-Patt plaintiffs

A recent $1.8 million Department of Defense (DOD) settlement in federal lawsuits over military COVID-19 vaccine mandates will not impact ongoing cases affecting plaintiffs with ties to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, an attorney for those plaintiffs said Tuesday.

“The DOJ (Department of Justice) took our case to the United States Supreme Court asking them to undo all of our wins,” Cincinnati attorney Christopher Wiest told the Dayton Daily News. “Our response to that filing is due next week.”

Wiest said he is asking courts to restore backpay and retirement points for Air Force Reservists he represents. He said the Air Force “shelved” those points from January to July as plaintiffs obtained a national injunction against DOD actions against them.

“They lost a year of service and retirement as a result,” Wiest said. “So we do not think our case is over until that and a couple other remedial steps are taken.”

At some point plaintiffs will be in a position to discuss attorney’s fees with the DOJ, he added.

Wiest represents plaintiffs in Doster, et al. v. Kendall, et al. Hunter Doster is an Air Force first lieutenant working for Air Force Research Laboratory, which is headquartered at Wright-Patterson. The Dayton Daily News has requested an interview with him.

In two other cases, the DOD will pay plaintiffs who sued over a now-rescinded COVID-19 vaccine mandate $1.8 million, according to Liberty Counsel, an organization representing plaintiffs in those actions.

A signed settlement agreement was filed in the Middle District Court of Florida that requires the DOD to pay that amount for attorney’s fees and costs after two years of litigation, the Liberty Counsel organization said last week.

“As a result of Liberty Counsel’s class action lawsuits in Navy SEAL 1 v. Austin and Colonel Financial Management Officer, et al. v. Austin, and after Liberty Counsel obtained multiple restraining orders and injunctions, including a class-wide injunction, the DOD was forced to abandon its mandate and rescind the Aug. 24, 2021 and Nov. 30, 2021 memoranda on Jan. 10, 2023,” the organization said in a statement.

The DOD must pay within 21 days, the plaintiffs’ group said.

The settlement names five service or department secretaries as agreeing to the settlement, including Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall.

In late 2021 and early 2022, two federal lawsuits were filed against the Air Force arguing that the service had unjustly denied requests for religious exemptions from the military’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Both suits were filed in Cincinnati’s federal court, with one action naming at least 18 plaintiffs, of whom at least 10 officers and one enlisted Airman had some service time at Wright-Patterson at some point.

In January this year, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin rescinded his August 2021 memorandum mandating that members of the military be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Service leaders have said vaccinations are an important part of fitness and military readiness.

An Air Force spokeswoman declined to comment Tuesday.

A Liberty Counsel representative confirmed Tuesday that the settlement does not cover Doster v. Kendall.

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