EXCLUSIVE: A Republican lawyer is dissatisfied with the House proposal to strip the military COVID-19 vaccine mandate from the text of the national defense spending bill, saying it must go further to “stop the demoralization” that US service members have endured.
Fox News has learned that the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) will include a provision to repeal the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for service members. However, it will not reinstate service members who were discharged or had their benefits slashed for refusing to be immunized against the coronavirus. The bill is expected to be released Wednesday and be voted on by the House later this week.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., told Fox News Digital Tuesday that the NDAA’s provision to simply repeal the vaccine mandate “doesn’t go far enough, because you can’t repeal without repair.” He also noted the first issue for the new Republican majority in the House will be to “begin stopping the bleeding, stopping the demoralization” of service members.
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“The repair has to be reinstating individuals who want to come back, correcting their records, allowing these individuals who have served honorably to be recognized that way,” he said, citing an example of a young woman who was accepted into the Naval Academy and would have been a fourth-generation midshipman. However, due to religious beliefs that lead her to refuse the vaccine, she declined to attend the academy over the vaccine mandate of her.
“This loss has to be reversed. She has to be given the opportunity to seek what was her dream her whole life and not have to give up on her deep religious beliefs,” said Issa.
Issa is preparing to pursue legislation that would “make sure our heroes are made whole,” including restoring retirement perks, pensions and other benefits that were taken away from certain service members who refused the shot.
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The congressman said he will propose two types of legislation in the next Congress, when Republicans take the majority. The first will be the “Religious Exemption Recognition Act,” which would reinstate and restore those who refused the vaccine for “any number of valid reasons,” he said.
Second, he will establish a process to review religious accommodation cases that will be enshrined in federal statute, so it is “not at the whim” of the commander-in-chief to ignore the First Amendment, said Issa.
One former active-duty service member told Fox News Digital that it is astonishing that the military would deny service members their hard-earned benefits at 20 years for seeking religious accommodations to vaccination. He said the military often allows service members to retire out at 20 years and collect their full benefits, including those who have citations for insubordination, sexual harassment not amounting to rape and DUIs.
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In response to that, Issa directed his frustration on Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, saying, “Either he or somebody in that chain of command above him, which would only be the president, decided that there had to be retribution in retaliation for those who did not obey this order.They dealt with it as though it was disobeying a direct order at the highest level, which by no means is this, nor is it unconstitutional, or at least a breach from tradition, one that should have these kinds of responses.”
White House National Security Council Coordinator for Strategic Communications John Kirby said Monday that Austin still opposes the repeal of the vaccine mandate and the “president actually concurs with the secretary.”
“At this point, I don’t give a damn what that power-hungry cabinet officer wants,” continued Issa, referring to Austin. “Congress is speaking loud and clear, and we will continue to do so.”
Fox News’ Chad Pergram and Haris Alic contributed to this report.