By Bethany Blankley [The Center Square contributor] –
A group of 47 members of Congress are urging the Secretary of the Department of Defense to “immediately revoke” the COVID-19 vaccine mandate he issued last August for all service members, civilian personnel, and contractors. They’ve also asked him to re-instate those who’ve already been discharged for noncompliance.
In a Sept. 15 letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, they wrote “to express our grave concern over the effect of the Department of Defense’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate on the readiness of our Armed Forces, particularly the U.S. Army.
“As a result of your mandate, eight percent of the Army’s approximately 1 million soldiers face expulsion, Army recruiters cannot meet their FY22 target, and the Army has cut its projected FY23 end strength by 12,000 soldiers. As a major land war rages in Europe, our own military faces a self-imposed readiness crisis.”
The letter was co-led by Republican U.S. Reps. Mike Johnson of Louisiana, Chip Roy of Texas and Thomas Massie of Kentucky.
“The opaqueness of the Department continues to frustrate Members of Congress attempting to perform oversight of the Executive Branch,” they write, adding, “Our repeated inquiries remain unanswered.
“We are not the only ones frustrated. Thousands of these service members have been left in limbo while they wait for the adjudication of religious and medical exemptions. Some have waited for nearly a year to learn if they will be forcibly discharged for their sincerely held religious beliefs or medical concerns.”
They also asked if 75,000 soldiers are discharged how the Army will replace them since by the “very end of the fiscal year, the Army has only met 52% of its FY22 recruiting goal.”
They also point out serious problems with the Army’s existing recruitment strategy.
“Earlier this summer, the service began accepting enlistees without high school degrees or GEDs, offering $35,000 to any enlistee willing to go to basic training within 45 days, removing tattoo policies, and allowing soldiers to pick their first duty station,” they write. “We are not at war, but the Army is reducing basic standards and offering enlistment incentives greater than or equal to those during the height of the War on Terror – with poorer results.”
According to CDC data, over 40% of American men between the ages of 18 and 24 refuse to take the COVID-19 vaccine. That number is over 50% in the South, a region where more than half of all those enlisting in the U.S. military live.
Austin’s mandate, the members of Congress argue, automatically “disqualifies more than forty percent of the Army’s target demographic from service nationwide, and over half of the individuals in the most fertile recruiting grounds.”
Austin maintains that the mandate is imperative for mission readiness and the department has steadfastly defended it in lawsuits filed against it. Those representing the branches of the military sued have argued federal district judges don’t have jurisdiction to rule on military cases, which they’ve lost. They fought against federal judges granting class action status, which they also lost in cases in which judges issued stinging rebukes of military policies.
The members of Congress argue, “increasing amounts of data raise legitimate questions” about the mandate. Service members under 40 without comorbidities have nearly no chance of dying from the coronavirus, they argue, and “study after study has shown that Covid vaccinations have negligible or even negative efficacy against the Omicron strains. We also know that natural immunity provides better protection against infection and death than existing Covid vaccines, yet the Department still refuses to recognize it in lieu of vaccination.”
The legislators also requested information from Austin about how many military members have been vaccinated, how many filed religious, medical and administrative exemption requests, and how many requests were granted. They also asked how much it will cost to recruit, train and find replacements for those facing expulsion.
They conclude, “The data is now clear. The Department of Defense’s Covid vaccine mandate is deleterious to readiness and the military’s ability to fight and win wars. The vaccine provides negligible benefit to the young, fit members of our Armed Forces, and the mandate’s imposition is clearly affecting the Department’s ability to sustain combat formations and recruit future talent. We urge you to immediately revoke your Covid-19 vaccine mandate for all service members, civilian personnel, and contractors and re-instate those who have already been discharged.”
Since August 24, 2021, the department “has unlawfully administered Emergency Use Authorized products as if they were fully licensed FDA approved products and military members have not been allowed to exercise their legal right to refuse them,” Liberty Counsel, which represents members of the U.S. military in lawsuits against the administration, argues.
It’s also reported examples of military members whose religious exemption requests have been denied and have faced “cruel and unusual punishment.”
Its founder and chairman Mat Staver said, “It is indisputable that for one year the military has forced the shots when they knew they were under the Emergency Use Authorization law and not FDA approved. Our military service members have been threatened and punished in violation of federal law. Every member of Congress should demand this COVID shot mandate end immediately.”
About the Author: Bethany Blankley is a writer at the Center Square, Patheos/Hedgerow, political analyst and former press secretary at Capitol Hill / NY / WDC. Follow Bethany on Twitter @BethanyBlankley.