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Pentagon watchdog to review how branches have handled troops’ requests for vaccination exemptions

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WASHINGTON — The Department of Defense will investigate how the military branches are processing exemption requests for the COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

For the Navy, the latest statistics show that more than 384,000 active-duty sailors are fully vaccinated but more than 4,600 active sailors remained unvaccinated.

396 sailors have been separated for refusal to get vaccinated, while only one sailor has had a religious exemption conditionally approved.

Out of 16,000 overall requests for all branches, the Marine Corps has granted three religious exemptions. The Air Force has granted nine. The Army: zero.

Now, the Pentagon’s Inspector General will perform an audit that will examine whether exemption requests and punishments are “in accordance with Federal and DOD guidance.”

Daniel Meyer, managing partner of the Tully Rinckey firm’s nationwide military law practice group, said an audit is a good idea.

“In order to assure our fighting service members and our DOD civilians, anybody who’s under the instruction to get vaccinations, I think an outside, neutral third-party review of the procedures will be a good thing,” he said.

Meyer said the DOD’s handling of the vaccination mandate and subsequent requests for exemptions has not been great.

“The department was not prepared for the number of requests for exemptions,” he said. “And I also think that there has been some ambivalence about this concept of a sincere religious belief. And I don’t think these orders were well executed.”

According to the latest numbers on the DOD’s website, more than 1.6 million troops are fully vaccinated. However, more than 388,000 troops have tested positive for COVID-19, and 93 military members have died.

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