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During yesterday’s hearing of the Military Personnel Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, top military leaders avoided direct questions and revealed they do not have a plan to reinstate or compensate service members who were discharged for exercising their rights to refuse the unlawful COVID shot mandate that violated their religious beliefs.

Witnesses included Gilbert R. Cisneros Jr., DOD Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer; Gabe Camarillo, Under Secretary and Chief Management Officer of the Army; Erik Raven, Under Secretary and Chief Operating Officer and Chief Management Officer of the Navy; and Gina Ortiz Jones, Under Secretary of the Air Force.

During the hearing, Rep. Matt Gaetz asked Under Secretary Cisneros if there was a plan to “reinstate the roughly 8,600 service members across active duty, reserves and the guard, back to their point of service.”

Cisneros responded, “Service members who have been separated…there is a policy, a procedure for that. They can apply to the Board of Corrections if they think there is a discrepancy in their discharge. They can go and do that procedure.”

Gaetz said, “I didn’t ask about their options. I asked about your specific plan. Do you have a plan to get these folks back into our military?”

Cisneros replied, “The policy is the same that it’s always been. Service members are discharged, and if they want to come back into the service they can apply.”

“So, the DOD has no active plan to do proactive outreach to these individuals and get them back into the military?” Gaetz asked.

“Our plan is the same it’s always been,” said Cisneros.

When Rep. Jim Banks directed questions to Cisneros he asked, “There was this statement, quote, ‘no service members currently serving will be separated based solely on their refusal to receive the COVID-19 vaccination, if they sought an accommodation based on religious, administrative, or medical grounds,’ end quote. So, if service members did not receive or seek an accommodation for the COVID-19 vaccination, are you still planning to separate those service members?”

Cisneros responded, “That is up to the services. But no, as the statement said, no individuals being separated for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine. If individuals have been separated, there have been — were separated because they disobeyed a lawful order.”

Rep. Banks said, “In his opening statement, Undersecretary Cisneros said that many vaccines are, quote, ‘required for all military personnel who do not already have immunity,’ end quote. Last week, The Lancet medical journal, published a study showing that natural immunity is as effective as two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at preventing severe illness and death. Thousands of service members were discharged and tens of thousands of potential recruits were barred from enlisting because they had not been vaccinated against COVID-19. However, a significant portion of them did have immunity, due to a prior COVID infection. Secretary Cisneros, does the DOD acknowledge The Lancet’s conclusion that natural immunity is as effective as a vaccination?”

Cisneros replied, “Chairman, Mr. Chairman, I believe we’re still kind of evaluating the results of the COVID, and the research that’s going through. It’s not like chickenpox, where if you get it once and you’re good. There have been people who have gotten COVID numerous times. And so we don’t know about natural immunity there, as far as, you know, how it works and how effective it is. And so we are going based on the research that we have, and we’ve continued to update and change our policies, as the research has progressed and we’ve gone through this process. But right now, there is no more COVID-19 vaccine, although we do still encourage our members to get the vaccination, as well as the boosters, when they come out.”

On September 2, 2022, the Acting Department of Defense Inspector General (DoDIG) Sean O’Donnell sent a memo to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin that highlights the deliberate violation of federal law within the Department of Defense (DOD) as evidenced in actual denials of religious exemption requests from service members who refused the COVID-19 shot because of their religious beliefs. In O’Donnell’s June 2, 2022, memo, he informs Austin of “potential noncompliance with standards for reviewing and documenting the denial of religious accommodation requests of Service members identified through complaints submitted to my office. The Department of Defense Hotline received dozens of complaints regarding denied religious accommodation requests from Service members. We found a trend of generalized assessments rather than the individualized assessment that is required by Federal law and DoD and Military Service policies.”

On October 18, 2022, House Oversight Committee Republicans sent a letter to Commandant Admiral Linda Fagan demanding that the U.S. Coast Guard explain the process for reviewing religious accommodation exemption applications for the COVID shot mandate, including the use of a digital tool to assist in issuing blanket denials rather than focusing on each individual case as is required by DOD Directive.

During yesterday’s hearing, Rep. Gaetz questioned Under Secretary Raven if the Navy used form letters in response to service members’ request for religious exemptions to the COVID shot mandate.

Under Secretary Raven responded, “Sir, I’d have to get back to you on that.”

Gaetz reaffirmed that the law requires an individual assessment of people’s request for a religious exemption.

Raven responded, “Whatever initial outreach there may be, but I’ll get back to you on that. In terms of the process we followed, it was individualized review with multiple levels.”

“You believe there was that individualized review? The Inspector General disagrees with you. The Inspector General issued a report in June of 2022 that I’m quoting from… ‘the denial memorandum reviewed generally did not reflect an individualized analysis.’ And the report goes on to say that the average time spent on each package was twelve minutes. Does twelve minutes seem like sufficient time to make on someone’s deeply held religious basis for an exemption?” asked Gaetz.

“Sir, the process that was followed included multiple reviews at the medical, chaplaincy and legal reviews, senior commanders, going all the way up to headquarters. The Marine Corps established a board with senior-level reviews outside the chain of command for each one of these reviews that amounted to, in many cases, more than ten hours of each case,” said Raven.

“That’s not what the Inspector General said. That seems like a self-assessment not a reflection of the assessment. And to hear you say that is concerning because it would seem to suggest that you guys haven’t really taken the advice of the finds of the IG. And it also doesn’t comport to what I saw with my own two eyes because I went to Naval installations and met with service members who could point to memorandum they had received that were exactly identical.”

Rep. Cory Mills also questioned Under Secretary Cisneros. “So then you should be aware that, from the time period of 2000 to 2021, that the actual number of deaths due to illness has not changed. And, in fact, the highest year was in 2009 with 277. And, meanwhile, it says, as a result of due to illnesses you have, and I’ll read these off quickly, but from 2010 through 2021, yeah, 238, 252, 246, 214, 195, 196, 173, 171 — it actually starts coming down. 2019, 174, 2020, 154, 2020, 190, relatively unchanged in the last 22 years. Can you tell me, again, how the COVID vaccine contributed to that?”

“What I will tell you, sir, is the COVID vaccine allowed us to operate and to be able to deploy our forces around the world and make sure that we continue training and that we’re able to carry out the national defense strategy and defend the nation.,” said Cisneros.

“Okay. And just a quick question, I noted that it was very simple, that said that administrative exemptions were typically granted for service members who were within six months of separation or retirement. You know, this is almost like the arbitrary thing, where COVID only exists when you stand up, you have to wear your mask, but when you sit down, it magically goes away. So are you saying, then, that members who had six months or less had less risk of actually spreading the virus, as those who have a year or more? This is your policies by the way, sir,” asked Rep. Mills.

Cisneros replied, “That is what we are saying, is when that was carried out, when people were allowed to go, they were still required to meet certain — the force health protection guidance that was put out by the Department of Defense, while they were still serving. And that was, at times, wearing their mask and doing what needed to be done in order to protect themselves and others from the COVID-19. What was granted and what the services did, and I’ll let them explain it further, but if a member was getting out and they had made the decision to get out and they were within six months of separation, they were given the administrative accommodation.”

Rep. Mills stated, “Well, I can tell you this, sir, as a military combat veteran, a proud service member, I will be pushing, as well as for — I’m sure that our — our chairman, as well, as for the Armed Services chairman to allow these individuals who were unlawfully purged, in my opinion, to be reentered into the military with their full benefits, their back pay, and be granted what they should have been given, which is the chance to serve our United States military.”

Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver said, “Our military members deserve much better than this insulting treatment as evidenced in yesterday’s hearing. The total lack of candor and the misrepresentation of material facts is disturbing. The testimony presented to the committee is contradicted by the Inspector General’s report and the documents and sworn testimony presented in our ongoing litigation. The Department of Defense and high-ranking military brass act as though they are above the law. They appear to have little to no concern for the truth, the law, and for the dedicated service members. The arrogant, lawless, and abusive actions are the reason retention and recruitment has dropped to an alarming rate. There needs to be a complete transformation of the system beginning with the Secretary of Defense and the top Pentagon brass.”

Author: Liberty Counsel


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