TRENTON – A South Jersey congressman blasted the Biden administration for vaccine mandates he said have decimated military recruitment and led to higher signing bonuses to recruit and retain personnel.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J. 2nd District, issued a statement in response to reports that the Coast Guard is offering enlistment bonuses of up to $50,000 for cooks – culinary specialists, to use the military vernacular – who have a qualifying culinary degree.

“President Biden told all of America that the pandemic is over. Yet, our national security is in danger because of his extension of these authoritarian vaccine mandates,” Van Drew said. “The United States military is faced with one of the most difficult recruiting years in decades, exacerbated by these COVID-19 vaccine mandates.”

Van Drew said the vaccine requirement is putting military readiness at risk.

attachment-News quote Van Drew vaccine

“President Biden needs to get off his high horse, reverse these unconstitutional mandates on our military and reinstate every servicemember who was discharged,” Van Drew said.

Bonuses have been in place

The bonuses for cooks are not new. In fact, Coast Guard bonuses of up to $40,000 for culinary specialists were being offered before the pandemic but were recently increased for fiscal 2023.

The recruitment bonuses are updated each year. Other bonuses were also increased by $5,000 to $10,000, though the bonus for Coast Guard operations specialists was unchanged at $20,000 – still below its pre-pandemic level of $30,000.

The Army, Navy and Air Force have been offering up to $50,000 bonuses since the start of 2022, compared with their previous highs of $40,000.

The Marine Corps bonuses for fiscal 2023 are smaller, ranging as high as $8,000, plus up to $9,000 for joining early in the year.

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Michael Symons is the Statehouse bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at

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