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While the government's Covid-19 vaccine mandate for U.S. troops is no longer in effect, the Pentagon sent a letter to lawmakers recently saying that it could still remove as many as 16,000 unvaccinated troops from service.
According to the letter from the Under Secretary of Defense for Military personnel Gilbert Cisneros, military officials "continue to review cases on an individual basis to determine appropriate action" for personnel who did not get vaccinated and who also did not request an exemption.
The letter noted that there are 16,000 of those cases and approximately 69,000 unvaccinated troops, although 53,000 of those had requested either a religious, medical, or administrative exemption.
The 16,000 who remain unvaccinated and did not request a waiver are still subject to separation, according to the Pentagon, despite Republicans using the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act to force the Biden administration to rescind the mandate last year.
Jim Banks (R-IN0), Chairman of the Military Personnel Subcommittee, criticized the Pentagon's decision to punish troops who did not file for an exemption, saying, "It's incredibly divisive and cruel to fire patriotic service members for refusing to comply with a partisan and harmful rule that no longer exists. To me, the only explanation is that the Biden administration wants to purge conservative service members from the military."
When questioned by Banks during a hearing as to why troops are being punished regarding a mandate that is no longer in effect, Cisneros said it was due to the mandate being a "lawful order" at the time it was issued and that troops who remained unvaccinated without seeking an exemption "disobeyed a lawful order."
"Those who refused the vaccine and did not put in a request for an accommodation refused a lawful order," Cisneros answered.
When asked what purpose enforcing a rescinded mandate served, Cisneros replied, "In order to maintain good order and discipline, it's very important that our service members follow orders when they are lawful."
Despite Cisneros' answers, the DOD has never publically answered questions regarding whether or not the Covid vaccine mandate was lawful.
The DOD will also not reveal whether or not Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin requested or received an exemption from President Biden.