Top Senate Armed Service Republican wants DOD to suspend vaccine mandate

Top Senate Armed Service Republican wants DOD to suspend vaccine mandate
© Greg Nash

The top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee wants Defense Secretary Lloyd AustinLloyd AustinBiden administration prepared to use 'other tools' on Iran amid troubled nuclear talks Photos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles Overnight Defense & National Security — US tries to deter Russian invasion of Ukraine MORE to suspend the Pentagon’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, claiming a “lack of clarity and consistency” among the military services in implementing the order.

Austin in late August ordered all service members and defense personnel to “immediately begin” getting the coronavirus vaccine, though he left it up to the individual military services to decide when to set deadlines for the shot.

Most service members have received their vaccines, but tens of thousands have yet to comply. Now, with deadlines looming, national security could be at risk, says committee ranking member James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeOvernight Defense & National Security — Senate looks to break defense bill stalemate Senate GOP moving toward deal to break defense bill stalemate Overnight Defense & National Security — US, Iran return to negotiating table MORE (R-Okla.).

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“At a time when our adversaries continue to increase their quantitative and qualitative advantage against our forces, we should seek to ensure that no policy, even unintentionally, hinders military readiness,” Inhofe wrote in a Monday letter to Austin. “Most troublesome is the lack of clarity and consistency among the services as they look to implement the administration’s hasty vaccination mandate.”

Asked on Tuesday if the Biden administration had concerns about thousands of military personnel potentially leaving the Defense Department due to the mandate - as well as any national security implications - White House press secretary Jen PsakiJen PsakiBiden, Putin to talk next week amid military buildup in Ukraine Epidemic of smash-and-grab crime is definitely man-made US intelligence says Russia planning Ukraine offensive involving 175K troops: reports MORE pointed to the significant role the vaccine has played in saving American lives.

“More than 700,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. . . . It’s something that we should take seriously. Departments are trying to save people in their departments - people who work for them - and we support that effort and there’s been success across the country in that regard,” Psaki told reporters during a daily press briefing. 

She also pointed out that more than 90 percent of the armed forces had been vaccinated, a figure that continues to tick upward.

The vaccine deadline across the services varies, with the Army — which has a large National Guard and Reserve component — requiring its members to be vaccinated by as late as June 30 of next year or face separation.

The Navy, meanwhile, gave active-duty sailors and Marines until Nov. 28 to get the shot, and reservists until Dec. 28.

The Air Force has required its active-duty personnel to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 2 and all Air National Guard and reserve members will have to be vaccinated by Dec. 2.

Defense personnel are allowed to request a vaccine exemption for medical or religious reasons, but Inhofe alleges that by allowing each service to set its own deadlines, in addition to “unrealistic timelines and processes for granting exemptions,” it will ensure thousands of personnel will be unable to comply.

He demands Austin provide him with information including the “total cost associated with discharging the service members, civilian personnel and contractors who fail to comply with the vaccination mandate,” and “the cost associated with replacing these vacancies with new hires and any planning conducted for recruitment or retention strategies to offset anticipated discharges.”

In addition, Inhofe wants to know the anticipated effects on mission readiness should the Pentagon pursue removing those who fail to comply with the mandate.

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He also wants to know the processes for those seeking vaccination exemptions, the criteria by which individual cases are being adjudicated and how an individual might pursue an appeal to an initial ruling.

Inhofe asks for the information by Nov. 1.

Updated at 2:39 p.m.