Lankford presses Pentagon to explain ‘horrific’ conditions for unvaccinated sailors seeking religious exemptions
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EXCLUSIVE: A top GOP senator is demanding answers from Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin after Fox News Digital reported that U.S. Navy service members seeking religious exemptions from the Defense Department’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate have been transferred to deplorable living conditions.
Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., who sits on the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sent a letter to Austin on Monday afternoon, first obtained by Fox News.
“Once again, I am writing to you with urgent requests and serious concerns about the treatment of service members who have religious objections to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Just when I thought the Department of Defense was mistreating service members with objections religious. to the vaccine couldn’t get any worse, yes,” Lankford wrote.
“While many of my earlier letters seem to have been ignored, recent reports require me to write again as living and working conditions have worsened for service members who are unfairly treated by vaccine policies strict and unequal that this Administration has imposed on them,” he continued.
NON-VAXXES NAVY SAILORS FACE ‘DEplorable’ LIVING CONDITIONS AS RELIGIOUS EXEMPTIONS REMAIN
“At best, these reports demonstrate your lack of consideration for the service members you lead. At worst, it demonstrates an active disdain and hostility toward them,” the senator stated, referring to the reports of Fox News.
In a June court filing by First Liberty in District Court for the Fort Worth Division of the Northern District of Texas, the sailors described the deplorable conditions on the large American ships, where they continue to wait while their cases are resolved.
A sailor who is now part of a class-action lawsuit said in a court filing that they “couldn’t leave the area” after they asked to be discharged from the military over religious objections to the mandate and were transferred to the USS Dwight D. Docking barge of the aircraft carrier Eisenhower, where conditions are “deplorable”.
“These conditions make for an authoritarian and abusive government that falls far below the standard of the military of the greatest nation on earth. I urge you in the strongest possible terms to take immediate action to ensure that no member of the service is subjected to a deplorable situation. , illegal retribution for sincerely exercising their religious beliefs. I request your prompt action to audit and remedy the working and living conditions of these sailors,” he continued.
The senator said that “as each day passes, the COVID-19 vaccine becomes more irrelevant and the mandate more oppressive,” and called for a “swift resolution” of the matter.
The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter and Lankford’s demands.
“The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), or ‘IKE,’ is currently undergoing maintenance at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. When ships are under maintenance periods, active-duty Sailors and those without housing in the city they live on the docking barge,” Robert Myers, commander of Naval Air Force Atlantic, said in a statement to Fox News Digital in response to last week’s original article detailing the conditions.
“Since moving the crew to the docking barge more than a year ago, the commanding officer has assigned a senior officer to oversee and ensure that living conditions remain within Navy standards. An IKE team of five crew of sailors works with contractors to correct mechanical Leaks or clogged plumbing, like any quality-of-life issue, are episodic and are fixed as soon as possible, often the same day or within 24 hours after notification to management. Any discrepancies that are beyond the scope of assigned sailors are addressed. to a contracted maintenance support team,” he continued.
“The IKE crew conduct cleaning and sweep stations daily, both on the IKE and on the dock barge. This All Hands effort aims to ensure that sailors, those who live and work on the barge at docked, have ownership and pride in the spaces where they live and work.”
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“IKE has a very small number of Sailors who are refusing the COVID-19 vaccine and/or seeking a vaccine exemption. While they are undergoing the administrative process of being separated from the Navy, the management of IKE has provided opportunities to accommodate requests for time off (beyond weekends). and holidays) to ensure these Sailors can prepare for life after the Navy.The Navy is not aware of of any sailor who has not been able to leave while awaiting discharge from compulsory service”.
The Navy did not respond to questions from Fox News Digital about how long it takes to discharge a sailor or when sailors seeking a religious exemption from the vaccine could return aboard the USS Dwight D Eisenhower.