EXCLUSIVE: Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee are demanding answers from the Pentagon on the status of its coronavirus vaccine mandate as unvaccinated service members continue to be subjected to punishments.
In August 2021, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memo making COVID vaccines mandatory for service members.
Republicans, led by Ranking Member Mike Rogers, R-Ala., on Monday wrote a letter, exclusively obtained by Fox News Digital, to Austin, seeking to “clarify” his position on the mandate after President Biden said in a recent interview that “the pandemic is over.”
“Pandemic restrictions have been lifted across the country and state and federal courts have enjoined enforcement of employment-based vaccine mandates,” Rogers and his GOP colleagues wrote. “It is our understanding that members of the Armed Forces are now one of the only few groups in the Executive Branch still subject to termination for failure to take the vaccine.”
Rogers pointed to the 48 pending court cases against the Biden administration challenging the vaccine mandate.
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Rogers and Republicans on the committee also pointed to the Department of Defense’s inspector general memo in June, which raised concerns regarding the legitimacy of the process used to consider religious accommodations for service members who oppose vaccination.
The DOD inspector general said it found “a trend of generalized assessments rather than the individualized assessment that is required by Federal law and DoD and Military Service policies,” and said the “volume and rate at which decisions were made to deny requests is concerning.”
Rogers and Republicans, in their letter to Austin, requested a briefing on the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.
In the briefing, the lawmakers are requesting officials provide information on the timeline to end the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, or an explanation as to why the order remains in place; a “determination” on how Biden’s comments about the end of the pandemic “affects” the Pentagon’s determination to enforce the mandate; and a review of how COVID-19 has impacted operational readiness for U.S. military.
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The lawmakers also are requesting a summary review of litigation against DOD for the COVID-19 vaccine mandate; an assessment of how the COVID-19 vaccine mandate is impacting recruitment and retention in the Armed Forces, as well as what consideration is being made to offer “reinstatement” to those service members who were separated because of a refusal to take the COVID vaccine; and actions taken to address the flawed COVID-19 religious accommodation process.
“We would appreciate a timely response to our request considering we are finalizing the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act,” Rogers and Republicans wrote.
Fox News Digital reported this week that the Army is subjecting unvaccinated soldiers to punishments, including prohibiting off-base travel, halting promotions and enforcing involuntary terminations from the service, which active-duty service members claim is a strategy to pressure them to abandon their deeply held religious beliefs.
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An Army spokesperson confirmed to Fox News Digital that unvaccinated soldiers, including those without an approved religious accommodation exemption, are “subject to certain adverse administrative actions.”
“Soldiers who refuse the order to be vaccinated without an approved or pending exemption request are subject to certain adverse administrative actions, including flags, bars to continued service, and official reprimands (GOMORS),” said the spokesperson.
According to the Army’s public coronavirus statistics, 4,664 active-duty soldiers requested a religious exemption to the vaccine, but only 44 were granted. The Army has enacted 1,722 total separations with unvaccinated soldiers, according to the data. The Army did not detail how many separations were due to having been denied a religious exemption.
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Regarding the IG report, and whether the Army has taken any steps to address alleged blanket denials of exemptions, the Army spokesperson referred Fox News Digital to the Pentagon.
The Pentagon previously insisted that the department “is doing everything we can to best protect our service members and their families.”
As for the Navy, Fox News Digital previously reported that sailors seeking religious exemptions to vaccine mandate have been transferred into deplorable living conditions and, in some cases, are unable to leave while awaiting termination from the military, according to court documents.
In addition, the Navy quietly rolled back an order punishing SEALs who remain unvaccinated due to their religious beliefs, according to court documents, in order to comply with a federal court mandate.
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The order, “Trident Order #12,” disqualified SEALs seeking religious exemptions from the COVID-19 vaccine from training, traveling for deployment and conducting other standard business.
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Unvaccinated Air Force pilots seeking religious accommodations to the vaccine mandate are still being prohibited from flying, despite those with medical exemptions being able to perform their usual duties.
The Coast Guard has denied guardsmen religious accommodation requests and is still taking action to keep unvaccinated service members from being promoted and trained, while continuing involuntary terminations, despite the country moving on from the COVID-19 pandemic.