Pentagon rushed to deny service members' vaccine religious exemption requests: report

GOP lawmakers have demanded answers on the 'blanket denial' of religious exemptions

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A Pentagon report found the military was likely too quick to deny service members religious exemptions to its COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

"We found a trend of generalized assessments rather than the individualized assessment that is required by Federal law and DoD and Military Service policies," Pentagon Inspector General Sean O'Donnell wrote in a memo to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in June, according to Military.com. "Some of the appellate decisions included documentation that demonstrated a greater consideration of facts and circumstances involved in a request."

Thousands of service members filed for religious exemptions to the COVID-19 vaccine after it was mandated by Austin in August 2021, but only a fraction of those who made the requests were approved.

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Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin (AP Photo/Michael Probst)

The military mandates vaccinations and medical treatments for a variety of illnesses, including flu and smallpox. Service members can be excused from those treatments only with an approved religious exemption, but the Inspector General found the process for denying such requests for the COVID-19 vaccine revealed "concerning" trends.

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"The volume and rate at which decisions were made to deny requests is concerning," the memo to Austin said. "Assuming a 10-hour work day with no breaks or attention to other matters, the average review period was about 12 minutes for each package. Such a review period seems insufficient to process each request in an individualized manner and still perform the duties required of their position."

Members of the military inoculate people with the COVID-19 vaccine at the Esperanza Community Vaccination Center in Philadelphia.

Members of the military inoculate people with the COVID-19 vaccine at the Esperanza Community Vaccination Center in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

A group of GOP lawmakers on Monday demanded answers from Austin on what they called "blanket denial of religious accommodation" in response to the memo.

A U.S. Marine receives the coronavirus vaccine at Camp Foster on Okinawa.

A U.S. Marine receives the coronavirus vaccine at Camp Foster on Okinawa. (Carl Court/Getty Images)

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"As of February 2022, the Department of the Navy had granted only a single, partial exemption to its COVID-19 vaccine mandate on religious grounds, and as of July 2022 the Department of the U.S. Army had approved just 20 of over 8,000 requests, the Department of the Air Force had approved less than 130 of over 9,000 requests, and the U.S. Marines had only approved seven of over 3,700 requests," said the group, which was led by Republican Reps. Jim Banks of Indiana and Darrell Issa of California.

The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a Fox News' request for comment.