The Armed Forces: We Can’t Tell You How Many Accommodations We’ve Denied

The Armed Forces: We Can’t Tell You How Many Accommodations We’ve Denied

According to a new court filing, a large percentage of the military cannot provide information regarding the number of vaccine exemption or accommodations requests it has received or denied. Navy Seal 1 v. Biden was filed in court on October 15th and seeks to protect the religious liberty and health of service members in light of Biden’s vaccine mandate. The Plaintiffs were seeking an injunction to halt further action against service members with a pending religious accommodation or medical exemption and ultimately seek approval of the accommodation requests they filed.

Short of issuing the requested injunction, the court ruled on November 22nd that starting on January 7th, the armed forces must submit:

“…the aggregate number of religious-exemption requests from COVID-19 vaccination, the aggregate number of initial denials, the number of those denials in which the chaplain determined that the asserted belief is sincere, the aggregate number of appeals pending, the aggregate number of denials for which the time to appeal has expired without appeal, the number of appeals denied, the number of successful appeals (that is, the number of appeals that resolve or remand for resolution the application for an exemption), and the total number of religious exemptions finally granted and finally denied;(2) the number of medical-exemption requests from COVID-19 vaccination and the number of medical exemptions granted and denied; (3) the number of other exemptions from COVID-19 vaccination granted for any other reason; and (4) the number of courts-martial and the number of separation proceedings pending or concluded against a service member whose request for a religious exemption was denied after appeal.”

This week, the armed forces submitted the first of those reports. The reports were coupled with a compliance explanation that discusses in detail the government’s position that the judge lacks the authority to ask for the information, along with language that suggests that the military has no accurate way of even tracking the data as it stands.

Barring that, seven affidavits were filed, some that released portions of the requested information and others that didn’t. The Navy, Marines, and Air Force claim not to have access to centralized information that would fulfill the judge’s requests. The Army, however, did have detailed information.

The Army reported that in addition to the religious accommodation requests, they had also received 649 permanent medical exemptions. They have denied all but five of those requests. The five that were approved were in soldiers who had voluntarily gotten the shot but experienced serious medical effects afterward, including three cases of myopericarditis. The Army stated:

“All five of these soldiers voluntarily received an initial dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and experienced a serious and documented medical reaction to the first dose. Three experienced post-vaccination myopericarditis, one experienced thrombocytopenia, and one experienced Parsonage-Turner syndrome. In all five cases, the decision was in alignment with CDC guidelines for vaccine exemption, and the decision authority determined that the potential risk to the Soldier outweighed the benefit of the vaccine.”

The affidavits can be read by following this link.

There was also an unsolicited filing by a Gunnery Sergeant in the Marine Corps. He submitted a notice today documenting his fear that the military is issuing blanket denials of religious accommodations without individual review. Andrew L. Guthart wrote that he has seen evidence that makes it clear they are “..copying and pasting each denial, only changing the header information.” Guthart also filed a complaint with the Inspector General of the Marine Corps, asking that his complaint be disclosed to the court in the Navy Seal 1 v. Biden case.

Guthart’s letter goes into detail, alleging that denials were timed before the holiday to preclude service members from successfully appealing during the proper timelines. Additionally, Guthart explains that the denials are vague and do not allow for a counterargument, further hampering the appeals process for service members appealing decisions. Further, Guthart alleges workplace discrimination against the unvaccinated, citing the “nuisance” they are to commanding officers who have to go through a myriad of bureaucratic procedures to document their behaviors as unvaccinated members of the service.

The notice, appearing on the docket in the case today, gives a first-hand, unsolicited account of what the Plaintiffs in the suit have alleged, including a copy of Guthart’s denial letter and details of his experience through the process. It also cites information about the new COVID variant, Omicron, as evidence that the mandates would be for naught and unsuccessful at preventing the transmission of COVID-19, along with disease severity as a metric. He closes by saying:

“If final appeals are denied, and no action is taken, tens of thousands of service members like me will be faced with the difficult choice of leaving the military, losing our pensions, education benefits, and salaries, or complying. For those that do comply, we will be forced to take a series of inoculations that has clearly not performed as expected by public health officials.”

We will continue to cover this developing story.

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