Services may wrongly deny religious exemptions to vaccines, IG says
The Department of Defense inspector general is concerned that service authorities have been rushing through requests for COVID-19 vaccine exemptions, issuing blanket denials without considering each case individually, according to a memo to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin in June.
The letter, from Acting DoD Inspector General Sean O’Donnell, warns Austin that early findings from a review of the waiver process showed “widespread assessments rather than the individualized assessment required by federal law and DoD and military service policies”.
“The denial memoranda we reviewed generally did not reflect an individualized analysis, demonstrating that the senior military official considered all of the facts and circumstances relevant to the particular religious accommodation request,” O’Donnell added. .
The Pentagon’s IG hotline has received dozens of complaints about the waiver process, he said, prompting the IG to announce a review in February.
The services have reported thousands of waiver requests for service members seeking to avoid vaccination against COVID-19, which they are entitled to do for medical, religious or other administrative reasons.
While numerous administrative or medical waivers have been granted, which may include health conditions or imminent departure from the military, religious exemptions have been in the single digits.
“Additionally, the volume and pace at which decisions have been made to deny requests is concerning,” O’Donnell wrote. “Appeal authorities for the services we reviewed reported that an average of 50 denials per day were processed over a 90-day period.”
That would average around 12 minutes or so if the request were made, assuming a 10-hour day with no breaks, he added.
Hundreds of military personnel have been discharged for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine since last winter when the service delays began. Troops who have requested waivers cannot be released while their waivers or denial appeals are in progress.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at the Military Times. It covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership, and other issues affecting service members.