Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Military, federal workers deserve elimination of federal COVID-19 vaccine requirements

by U.S. SEN. MIKE CRAPO Contributing Writer
| December 15, 2022 1:00 AM

One may understandably, but unfortunately mistakenly, assume that at this point in the pandemic federal COVID-19 vaccination mandates have run their course, and Idahoans can freely choose whether they want to vaccinate or continue with vaccinations.

However, some, including those who serve in our nation’s Armed Forces, continue to face disciplinary actions, trouble with security clearances, lost training and advancement opportunities or other negative consequences for choosing not to get vaccinated for COVID-19. A provision I backed requiring the U.S. Department of Defense to rescind the mandate that members of the Armed Forces be vaccinated for COVID-19 was included in the House and Senate negotiated National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2023.

This is a welcome first step in ending these types of mandates and the harm they have caused. However, the provision does not rescind the related penalties and forced separations imposed on military personnel, and we must not let up in repealing those penalties and reinstating all service members unfairly discharged.

I have written and talked considerably about my opposition to federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates. I continue to maintain it is a matter of individual, personal choice, and I have serious concerns about the Administration’s sweeping, one-size-fits-all vaccination mandates. Therefore, I have joined numerous efforts to oppose vaccine mandates. This includes numerous actions to specifically repeal federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates and related reprimands and terminations for our nation’s service members, including:

Co-sponsoring S. 4172, and a NDAA Amendment titled the Allowing Military Exemptions, Recognizing Individual Concerns about New Shots (AMERICANS) Act, which would counter efforts by the Biden Administration to punish service members who chose not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine;

Co-sponsoring S. 4304, the Defending Freedom of Conscience for Cadets and Midshipmen Act, which would protect cadets and midshipmen at the U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Naval Academy, U.S. Military Academy, U.S. Coast Guard Academy and U.S. Merchant Marine Academy from being punished for their choice not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine;

Co-sponsoring S. 4499, which would prohibit any COVID-19 vaccine requirement for National Guardsmen;

Writing a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin seeking information about the nature and number of service members being discharged for not receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, and the status of their benefits; and

Co-sponsoring S. 4925, the Preserving the Readiness of our Armed Forces Act, and a corresponding NDAA amendment, which prohibits the involuntary separation of service members for refusal of the COVID-19 vaccine until end strength goals are reached and ensures continued pay and benefits for National Guardsmen while religious and health accommodations are pending.

These are just some of the many steps I have taken to oppose the imposition of federal vaccine mandates on not only service members and federal workers, but also health care workers; essential workers, including truck drivers; employees at private businesses; outfitters and guides; and more.

We should never forget the enormous toll the pandemic has had on far too many lives. At the same time, Americans deserve federal policies that reflect current circumstances and the advances made in our fight against the virus. Recognizing the changing conditions since the pandemic began, in November, the Senate rightly passed with my support a resolution I co-sponsored to terminate the COVID-19 national emergency declared by the President on March 13, 2020. Earlier this year, the Senate passed a similar resolution I also co-sponsored.

Forcing vaccine mandates on service members threatens our military’s readiness by unfairly terminating many who are ready and willing to serve our nation. I will continue to fight to ensure service members are not punished nor terminated for exercising individual liberties to choose whether or not to be vaccinated for COVID-19 and the federal government stays within its authorities entrusted to it by the Constitution.

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Mike Crapo represents Idaho’s First Congressional District in the U.S. Senate. He can be reached at crapo.senate.gov.

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