WASHINGTON - Pentagon leaders admit a serious recruiting crisis threatens U.S. military readiness for decades to come. Yet, hundreds of service members continue to be discharged for refusing to get the COVID-19 vaccine.
A group of Republican lawmakers wants answers to why the vaccine mandate remains in place, even after the president publicly declared the pandemic over.
In the U.S. Coast Guard, more than 2,500 members are on-record for refusing a COVID vaccine. Many have been discharged, while others are still waiting on the official order.
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CBN News recently spoke with a Coast Guard member who's continuing to serve even with his job in limbo.
For those serving at Air Station Clearwater, in Florida, they're spending the time they have left saving lives in search and rescue efforts following Hurricane Ian.
"That's what I signed up to do. I have a passion for this job... I love the people I work with and I love the impact that we have on the people we serve, on the people we help," said Aviation Survival Technician First Class Chad Watson.
Watson has served in the military for 18 years. With just two years left until he's eligible to retire, he's now among those facing discharge.
"Weighing the risk versus gain, you know we're taught to do that our whole career. Well, the risk of getting COVID for me is very minimal, with the effects that it has, and what it can do to me versus the effects of the vaccine, which is unknown. So, going back to the risk, why would I take an unknown risk when I know that there's a minimal risk on something else," Watson explained to CBN News.
GOP lawmakers are pushing to save the jobs of people in his situation.
"The nature and effectiveness of the vaccine have evolved. It started with, 'Absolutely it stops the spread...' But I think it's pretty clear now that it doesn't stop the spread. It's more of a decision on what type of symptoms you want to incur or risk in your personal capacity, making it much more of a personal health decision," U.S. Rep. Mike Waltz (R-FL) said during a military readiness hearing.
In a recent letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee demanded answers on the status of the military's vaccine mandate. They point out that members of the Armed Forces are now one of only a few groups left in the executive branch still subject to termination for failure to take the vaccine.
They also reference the following statement from President Biden during a recent 60 Minutes interview. "The pandemic is over. If you notice no one is wearing masks, everybody seems to be in pretty good shape," Biden said.
So far, there's been no reconsideration from the military. Watson says he hopes the DOD will reverse the decision, not only for his own career but due to the strain more discharges would put on those still serving.
"In my job alone we're understaffed by a lot. We're about 89 percent capacity from where we should be and we're going to lose potentially 19 more from where we're currently at if they discharge us and release us from active duty," Watson said.
Republicans say this will be a top priority if they take back the House and Senate in November. In the meantime, they wait on answers from the Pentagon.
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