Academy counters attorney’s claims about disenrolled cadets’ departures
New London ― One of the seven Coast Guard Academy cadets ordered off campus last month for failing to get vaccinated against COVID-19 disputed an academy officer’s statement Thursday that the cadets left “at their own convenience” and that the academy paid for their travel “to the location of their choice.”
In a phone interview arranged by his attorney, Michael Rose, whose practice is in Summerville, S.C., the cadet said he was forced to live out of his truck for three nights and four days after being ordered to leave the academy Aug. 19. The cadet said he is now living with a friend on another college campus due to a serious conflict with his parents that prevents him from returning home.
The cadet estimated he has incurred about $1,000 in travel and living expenses since his banishment from the academy and has received no reimbursement.
The Day agreed to the attorney’s request that the cadet not be named out of fear of retaliation.
In the academy’s statement Thursday, Cmdr. Krystyn Pecora, the external affairs officer, said Rose’s account of the way the seven cadets left campus, published online Tuesday and in print Wednesday by The Day, was “completely inaccurate.” The cadets left the academy “at their own convenience,” with the academy arranging their travel back to their homes and paying for it, Pecora said.
The Day reported the cadets had been disenrolled for failing to comply with the military’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate after the academy denied their requests for exemptions on religious grounds.
Rose told The Day the cadets were informed Aug. 18 that they had to leave campus the following day, when they were “escorted to the gate like they were criminals or something.” Rose then said the academy offered the cadets no help in arranging or financing their travel and that two of the cadets had no home to go to.
After speaking further to clients, Rose, who represents dozens of military personnel and service-academy cadets in a lawsuit challenging the military’s COVID-19 vaccination requirement, said Thursday he now understands the academy had threatened to escort Coast Guard Academy cadets off campus if they failed to leave by 4 p.m. Aug. 19. The cadet who spoke confirmed that was the case, saying he was given less than 24 hours to comply.
Pecora, in the academy’s written statement, said the seven cadets left campus at various times Aug. 19 based on their individual travel arrangements, with the last to leave departing around 8 p.m.
She said no cadets were escorted from the academy grounds.
“The Coast Guard Academy staff assisted the seven cadets with Coast Guard processes to make travel arrangements,” Pecora said. “The Coast Guard Academy funded travel to the location of their choice. All seven cadets are currently residing at a safe location, having either returned to their families or are being hosted by the families of fellow cadets. While the seven cadets have been disenrolled, they have not been separated from the Coast Guard Academy and are continuing to receive cadet pay and entitlements until their separation is processed.”
“The seven cadets will not be subject to recoupment of their education expenses,” she said.
The cadet who spoke to The Day Thursday confirmed the academy provided some assistance with travel arrangements and indicated it would reimburse the cadets for the cost of traveling to their homes. He said the academy suggested the cadets put their expenses on their personal credit cards.
He said another of the cadets also was unable to return home and is temporarily staying with the family of another of the cadets.
While at their new locations, the cadets are supposed to maintain certain military standards, such as engaging in physical activity, and must check in weekly with academy officials, the cadet said. And, though the cadet said the academy superintendent told the cadets they could not attend classes remotely, the cadet said he was told to periodically check in with his academic adviser.
“None of this has happened at the other four service academies,” Rose said. “The Coast Guard Academy is in a class by itself. It’s really outrageous, and one of the most outrageous things is this misleading statement it’s issued. Clearly, these cadets didn’t get to leave ‘at their convenience.’”
Pecora also provided a detailed timeline of the events surrounding the cadets’ disenrollment, starting with the Secretary of Defense’s Aug. 24, 2021 determination that “mandating the COVID-19 vaccine for service members is necessary to protect the military and defend the American people.”
The Coast Guard announced the vaccination mandate two days later.
“Subsequent to this announcement, fifteen cadets filed either medical exemption requests or religious accommodation requests in September 2021,” Pecora said. “Each request was evaluated on a case-by-case basis by the Coast Guard’s Office of Military Personnel Policy. The cadets were notified on March 14, 2022 of the denial of their exemptions or accommodations and given 10 business days to file an appeal. The cadets were informed in May 2022 that their appeals were denied by Coast Guard Headquarters and directed to report to the Coast Guard Academy clinic to receive their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.”
“Four cadets chose to become vaccinated, four cadets chose to resign from the Academy, and seven cadets refused the order to become vaccinated,” Pecora said.
On June 13, the seven cadets were informed they were in violation of military law and given an additional five days to get their first dose of vaccine, according to Pecora’s timeline. On June 22, they were notified of their disenrollment and given an opportunity to appeal to Coast Guard headquarters. On Aug. 15, they were notified that their appeals were denied “and were directed to proceed to an alternate worksite status beginning on August 19th, 2022,” Pecora said.
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