RICHMOND, Va. — Two weeks have passed and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has not responded to a request from Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin and four members of the Virginia Congressional delegation to halt the COVID-19 vaccination mandate for members of the state National Guard.
They contend the vaccine order isn't "consistent with the latest science" and they worry that National Guard readiness could be impacted if troops quit or get kicked out.
Back in late June, Republican Rep. Rob Wittman (VA-01) joined forces with Youngkin along with fellow Republicans Rep. Bob Good (VA-05), Rep. Ben Cline (VA-06), and Rep. Morgan Griffith (VA-09) to urge Austin to "indefinitely postpone" the Defense Department's coronavirus vaccine mandate for the state's Army and Air National Guard Troops.
They argue the mandate will either drive troops away or weaken the National Guard if members get separated from service for refusing to comply.
Not a smart move, Wittman says, in the midst of hurricane season.
"Why would you make it even more difficult for the governor and the state to be able to respond to these circumstances?" he said.
According to Department of Defense data, more than 1.7 million active-duty troops are fully vaccinated.
However, Wittman insists it should be an individual choice, not a mandate.
"I'm vaccinated. I think the vaccine works," he said. "But I do think it's an individual's decision that needs to be made, whether or not someone gets vaccinated. We can debate whether or not the order is lawful. We can debate where the lines of authority are between the Governor or the Secretary of Defense I just want to make sure that the decisions is made in the best interest of our National Guardsmen and women and the Commonwealth of Virginia."
According to the Virginia National Guard, of the 8,600 total soldiers and airmen, 110 have refused to get a vaccination. 192 have requested religious or medical exemptions.
Unvaccinated troops are not allowed to take part in monthly drills or annual training unless they've submitted exemption requests and are awaiting results. As of Wednesday, no Virginia National Guard soldier or airman has been separated from service for refusal to get vaccinated.
In a statement to 13News Now, the Virginia National Guard said:
"Maintaining readiness continues to be one of the U.S. military's highest priorities. And vaccination against COVID-19 directed by the Secretary of Defense in August, 2021 is central to maintaining readiness.
"As the combat reserve of the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force, the Virginia National Guard will follow all Department of Defense policies and guidelines for service eligibility and readiness."