For the first time in at least 10 years the Marine Corps accepted religious exemption requests to a vaccine when it approved three such requests for the COVID-19 vaccine.
However, inquiries from Congressman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-California, showed that those three exemptions were approved for Marines who effectively were no longer serving, Military.com first reported.
“In two cases, the Marines are on terminal leave and in the other the Marine has transitioned into ... a 180-day training program in private industry,” said a late January letter from J. J. Daly, the deputy legislative assistant in the Marine Corps’ office of legislative affairs
About 97% of the active duty Marine Corps force was fully or partially vaccinated as of Feb. 3.
Marines not fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and who fail to receive an exemption will be kicked out of the Corps, according to Marine Corps policy.
Language in the fiscal year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act limited the Corps to giving Marines either an honorable or general under honorable conditions discharge.
The Marine Corps had received 3,538 religious exemption requests, as of Feb. 3. The Corps had already processed 3,414 requests, approving just three for an approval rate of just 0.088%.
The large number of denials, mixed with complaints from service members that they received nearly identical denials letters, led Issa to question the Corps’ religious exemption process, said spokesman Jonathan Wilcox.
The fact that the Marines who actually received the exemption were effectively out of the Corps just added to the office’s worries.
“First of all, don’t tell us Marines got religious accommodations and then turn right around and say that they weren’t authentic,” Wilcox told Marine Corps Times in a phone call. “It’s troubling because it seems to confirm what we’ve been hearing from the hundreds of (service members) that are contacting us.”
In response to the complaints by “hundreds” of Marines, Issa’s office sent a letter to Marine Corps Commandant Gen. David Berger, “about the scarce information and shortfall of direct confirmation from the USMC.”
“As a matter of fundamental fairness, the Marines still seeking accommodation – and with a history and continued desire to serve honorably – deserve basic information on the reported approved cases,” the letter read. “They deserve to know the critical circumstances that lead to the USMC’s approval of these requests, so they too may fully consider how to include complete details involving their own unique cases.”
The Corps denied sending form letters to Marines but acknowledged that the letters may be similar.
“Because the crux of the decision in the many denials has been the Marine Corps’ compelling interest in readiness, and the health and safety of the total force the letters are very similar,” Capt. Andrew Wood, a Marine Corps spokesman, told Marine Corps Times.
“But each has been personally reviewed and hand signed by one of the two most senior individuals in Marine manpower: the deputy commandant for Manpower and Reserve Affairs or the assistant deputy commandant for M&RA,” Wood said.
Though Issa’s office is aiming to ensure that religious exemption requests are properly reviewed by the Marine Corps, the lawmaker hopes to end the Department of Defense mandate.
Issa is one of 14 House Republicans who sent a letter to Chairwomen of the House Appropriations Committee Rosa L. DeLauro, D-Connecticut, urging Congress to block funding for the DoD vaccine mandate.
Issa said his office was working to end the mandate as a means of protecting the force from what he describes as presidential overreach, an emailed statement to Marine Corps Times said.
“Our work to stop the military vaccine mandate isn’t about contradicting command,” Issa said. “It’s about preventing untold damage to the greatest fighting force the world has ever known.
“This isn’t how the military wants to treat its own – it’s how the President and his team show their unprecedented hostility to our men and women in uniform. I won’t stand for this betrayal.”
Berger, defending the mandate in 2021, said it was critical for the Marine Corps to be fully vaccinated in order to complete its mission as the U.S.’s force in readiness.
“”We have to be ready to go, everyday all the time,” Berger said in November 2021 at the Aspen Security Forum.
“We are the ready force we have to be ready to go.”