House Republicans Mike Rogers (R-AL), the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Jim Banks (R-IN), the chairman of the Subcommittee on Military Personnel, are questioning the Pentagon about its strategy for implementing the COVID vaccine mandate reversal, the harm the Biden administration's mandate caused to the military and the reinstatement of troops.
According to Rogers and Banks, the administration has been “slow” to respond.
Rogers and Banks stated the following in a letter dated February 8, 2023, to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin:
“A letter of December 23, 2022, requested ‘your plan to implement this statutory requirement.’ Your four-sentence reply to the letter on January 26, 2023, failed to include any implementation plan. Additionally, staff has repeatedly asked for answers to many COVID-19 rescission questions critically important to the retention and recruitment of men and women in each of the armed service.”
Last year, House and Senate Republicans succeeded in getting the Biden Pentagon to repeal the COVID rule, which required all servicemembers to get immunized or risk being discharged from the military, by invoking the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. More than 8,400 soldiers were discharged without their will.
Now, Republicans are trying to make sure the Pentagon is following through with the mandate reversal, amid stories that the DOD is still discriminating against unvaccinated troops.
In a memo rescinding his vaccine mandate, Austin stated that commanders could still base decisions, such as deployments, on a member's vaccination status. Austin left it unclear whether the DOD would discharge members for failing to request a medical or religious exemption when the mandate was in effect from August 2021 to January 2023.
“Are potential military recruits required to submit an accommodation request to avoid being forced to receive the COVID vaccine?” Rogers and Banks inquired.
They renewed their need for additional information, such as the number of discharges that occurred after the reversal was enacted into law and the DOD publicly revoked the requirement.
They also requested information on the number of soldiers who had been discharged, broken down by rank, years of service, and date of discharge (honorable, general under honorable, etc.).
Additionally, they wanted to know if and how much of the recruitment bonuses that service members who were forced out were still required to pay back.
They also questioned how many and how much of the National Guard's drill time had been missed as a result of the regulation.
They also asked about service academies' policies and if graduates who had been reprimanded under the directive would have their records cleared.
They questioned if the DOD had offered reinstatement to any military members who were separated as a result of the vaccine and its plan to ensure that reinstatement was offered.
The pair asked for a response by February 21, 2023.
“Please note, many of the questions or requests for information presented above have gone unanswered for weeks, if not months. The Department and the Biden Administration must no longer refuse to respond to requests for information from this Committee,” they said.
The letter is a part of the Republicans' efforts to hold the Biden administration responsible since regaining control of the House. Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee will have greater sway over the NDAA than they did last year because they now control the House.