Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia urged the Pentagon to drop its vaccine mandate for Army National Guard Troops ahead of a June 30 deadline, according to a letter obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation that was first reported by The Hill.
In a letter to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Youngkin and several Republican Virginia representatives argued that the vaccine mandate would harm the Guard’s ability to accomplish its duties, The Hill originally reported. Up to 40,000 National Guardsmen and 20,000 reservists who have rejected the COVID-19 vaccine face discharge, according to News Nation.
“This directive will unnecessarily impact troop readiness, at a time when the Virginia National Guard has substantial deployments and as our nation enters hurricane season,” the letter stated. “These guardsmen deserve the opportunity to continue to serve, and we need them.”
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The letter argued that developments in COVID-19 treatment and easing of restrictions across the state of Virginia make such a mandate unnecessary.
“A select number of [troops] have made a decision not to get vaccinated and whether that decision is based on sincerely held religious beliefs, their own medical choices, or another matter of conscience, our nation should respect and accommodate it,” the letter concluded.
Of the unvaccinated Guard troops, 7,000 filed exemption requests and twice that many outright refused to seek an exemption despite not getting the vaccine, ABC News reported. Guard leaders indicated willingness to accommodate exemption requests ahead of the Thursday deadline, according to ABC News.
The Army had approved two religious exemptions and 20 medical exemptions among active-duty ranks as of April 6, Stars and Stripes reported, based off official data provided by the department.
Troop discharges began after a memo announcing the policy was circulated in February.
House Republicans similarly attempted dissuade the Pentagon from enforcing a vaccine mandate in November, citing concerns about military readiness, but without success.
“As China rapidly expands its nuclear arsenal, the U.S. Military cannot afford to have its best and brightest on the sidelines. I’m concerned that losing even one of our special operators due to the vaccine mandate could compromise the military’s readiness and operational capabilities,” Republican Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson said at the time.
The Pentagon and Youngkin’s office declined to comment.