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GOP Letter to SECDEF: When Will Vaccine Rule End?

10-04-22 WR HASC GOP
10-04-22 WR HASC GOP
Washington Report

Twenty-six House Republicans are demanding Defense Secretary Lloyd J. Austin III reveal when the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate will end.

In a recent letter, the group asks Austin for a congressional briefing on the controversial policy.

The coalition consists of House Armed Services Committee members led by Alabama Rep. Mike Rogers, the panel’s ranking Republican.

The effort marks at least the third letter to Austin from House Republicans about the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

“Based on President Biden’s declaration that the ‘pandemic is over,’ the ongoing litigation and court injunctions against the vaccine mandate, as well as concerns raised by the DoD IG’s assessment regarding the legitimacy of the process for religious accommodations for the COVID-19 vaccination, we request a briefing on the Department of Defense’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate,” the Sept. 28 letter said.

“We would appreciate a timely response to our request considering we are finalizing the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act,” it added.

The HASC Republicans pushed Austin to provide information about seven parts of the DoD’s COVID-19 policy:

  • The timeline to end the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, or an understanding why you plan to keep the order in place;
  • A determination on how the President’s announcement affects your determination to continue to enforce the mandate;
  • A review of the COVID-19 impacts on operational readiness for the Combatant Commands;
  • A summary review of litigation against DoD for the COVID-19 vaccine mandate;
  • An assessment of how the COVID-19 mandate is impacting recruitment and retention in the Armed Forces;
  • What consideration is being made to offer reinstatement to those servicemembers who were separated because of a refusal to take a COVID vaccine; and
  • Actions taken to address the points raised over the legitimacy of DoD’s COVID-19 religious accommodation process.

In August 2021, Austin ordered all active-duty, Reserve and National Guard troops to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Controversy has surrounded the decision ever since, with some service members refusing the vaccine and risking their military careers.

While the reasons vary, personnel have cited health and religious reasons for rejecting the vaccine.

In an August letter, 14 House Republicans pressed Austin to end the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Earlier that month, 51 GOP House members urged Austin to reconsider the policy in another message, citing the “crippling” impact the rule has on Guard readiness.

President Joe Biden declared a turning point in America’s fight against COVID-19 last month.

“We’re still doing a lot of work on it,” he told CBS's "60 Minutes." "But the pandemic is over.”

The pandemic has worsened today’s military talent crisis, the bleakest in decades.

Last week, the deputy chief of the Army Guard’s Strength Maintenance Division estimated COVID-19 vaccine refusals could cost the component 9,000 soldiers in fiscal 2023.

As of Sept. 30, 90% of the Army National Guard is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 1.2% is partially vaccinated.

In the Air Guard, 94.5% of airmen were fully vaccinated as of Sept. 21.

— By Mark Hensch