The Honorable Lloyd J. Austin III
Secretary of Defense
1400 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1400
Dear Secretary Austin:
We are deeply concerned about the administration’s vaccine mandate and its implementation throughout our armed services. In recent weeks we have received reports from across the country describing the unjust denials of servicemembers’ applications for medical and religious exemptions. In fact, we have received complaints from servicemembers representing several military installations that include corroborating documents indicating what seems to be an illegal policy of blanket denials for religious exemption requests from the COVID-19 vaccine. Our offices have received reports that the standards for religious exemptions are so rigorous that even members of the chaplaincy were denied an exemption. Are military chaplains not an authority on the doctrines of their own religions?
When seeking exemptions for medical or religious reasons, these servicemembers demonstrate legitimate concern for the impact the COVID-19 vaccine may have on their bodies. Because these exemptions seem to be unjustly denied as a matter of course, please clarify the following questions and provide documentation justifying your answers:
1. What process is the Department of Defense using to evaluate and determine the merits of religious and medical exemption applications?
2. Since the implementation of the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, did the Department update or change the standard of procedure to evaluate and grant vaccine exemptions? If so, how and based on what justification? Please submit the guidance provided to the various branches of service instructing how to implement these changes, if any.
3. Does the guidance you provided to the various branches of service comport with existing laws protecting religious freedom? Explain in detail.
4. How many medical and/or religious exemption applications did the Department receive regarding the COVID-19 mandate?
5. How many are denied? How many are granted? Please provide this information broken down by service branch.
6. What is the denial rate for medical and/or religious exemptions across the Department? Please provide this information broken down by service branch.
7. Does the same determinative standard of evaluating exemptions apply across the Department? If not, how much freedom are Commands given to evaluate and decide these exemptions?
The consequences for ignoring medical or religious exemptions may be dire to our servicemembers physical and mental health and to military readiness. I look forward to your response.
Member of Congress