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Veterans run for Congress aiming to hold Defense Department accountable over COVID vaccine mandate

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin sat on an explosive Inspector General's memo critical of the DOD's handling of the COVID mandate for months before forwarding it to subordinates. There are "a huge number of veterans who are entering the field to run for office” as the vaccine mandate and other issues are getting them “off the sidelines,” said Cameron Hamilton.

Published: January 5, 2024 11:00pm

More than a half-dozen military veterans running for office in the 2024 elections are calling for military accountability over the Defense Department’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate, with many seeking congressional seats to use the power of the legislative branch to investigate the implementation of the mandate. 

Despite the rescission of the Defense Department’s COVID vaccine mandate over a year ago, military members still face repercussions, such as the loss of pay, ruined careers, being non-deployable, and potentially diminished employment prospects for those already discharged.

Additionally, DOD leaders have not been held accountable for the implementation of the COVID vaccine mandate, leading more than 200 service members to sign an open letter calling for investigations. 

On Monday, An Open Letter to the American People from Signatories of this Declaration of Military Accountability was published online, with signatures from 230 current and former service members and one military spouse. 

The letter pledges to hold military leaders accountable for the implementation of the COVID vaccine mandate because of its alleged illegality and the purported harm it caused military members. 

The candidates are Nick Kupper for the Arizona state House’s 25th Legislative District, Nate Cain for West Virginia’s 2nd Congressional District, Chris Coulombe for California’s 2nd Congressional District, Cameron Hamilton for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, Mara Macie for Florida’s 5th Congressional District, Jay Furman for Texas’ 28th Congressional District, and Matthew Shoemaker for North Carolina's 13th Congressional District. 

The Department of Defense did not respond to a request for comment from Just The News. 

In 2021, the DOD issued its COVID-19 vaccine mandate, requiring all military members to receive the COVID vaccine. However, despite medical and religious exemptions being made available to some servicemembers, most of them were denied and many in the military were reprimanded for seeking them. Several military members who were denied exemptions litigated the denials in court, with branches such as the Navy being subjected to injunctions for the mandate in class action lawsuits. 

In December 2022, President Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act, the $858 billion defense spending bill that included a measure repealing the mandate. 

After Biden signed the bill into law, the Defense Department rescinded the mandate that resulted in the discharge of over 8,000 service members who refused the vaccine. 

Last January, the defense secretary issued another memo, stating that military branch commanders may consider a service member's vaccination status "in making deployment, assignment, and other operational decisions, including when vaccination is required for travel to, or entry into, a foreign nation." 

The military accountability letter signed by the servicemembers alleges that the law was broken by DOD leaders regarding the vaccine mandate, and they need to be investigated.

According to the letter, “While implementing the COVID-19 vaccine mandate, military leaders broke the law, trampled constitutional rights, denied informed consent, permitted unwilling medical experimentation, and suppressed the free exercise of religion. 

“Service members and families were significantly harmed by these actions," the letter continues. “Their suffering continues to be felt financially, emotionally, and physically. Some service members became part of our ever-growing veteran homeless population, some developed debilitating vaccine injuries, and some even lost their lives. In an apparent attempt to avoid accountability, military leaders are continuing to ignore our communications regarding these injuries and the laws that were broken.” 

The letter adds that “These leaders refused to resign or take any other action to hold themselves accountable, nor have they attempted to repair the harm their policies and actions have caused. Since there has yet to be any accountability, the undersigned give our word to do everything morally permissible and legally possible to hold our own leadership accountable. We intend to rebuild trust by demonstrating that leaders cannot cast aside constitutional rights or the law for political expediency.” 

R. Davis Younts, a lawyer who represents multiple former and current service members negatively impacted by the COVID vaccine mandate, told Just the News on Thursday that his client, active-duty Navy Commander Robert A. Green, Jr., wrote the primary draft of the letter. 

Younts said that the “primary goal” of the signatories is “to draw attention to fact that what happened” regarding the mandate “was wrong," but hardly anything was done about it besides the rescission by Congress. 

He added that in June 2022, the Defense Department’s Inspector General alerted Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III to apparent blanket denials of religious accommodation requests (RAR) for exemptions from the mandate, which would be a violation of federal law. Despite this, the DOD didn’t pause the implementation of the mandate to follow the IG’s guidance. 

Younts also noted that it is “fairly unprecedented” for a letter such as this to be sent out, with signatories of all ranks and active duty service members. 

The letter also reads, “In the coming years, thousands within our network will run for Congress and seek appointments to executive branch offices, while those of us still serving on active duty will continue to put fulfilling our oaths ahead of striving for rank or position. 

“For those who achieve the lawful authority to do so, we pledge to recall from retirement the military leaders who broke the law and will convene courts-martial for the crimes they committed. For those of us who attain legislative offices, we pledge to introduce legislation to remove all retirement income for the military leaders who were criminally complicit, and we will ensure none serve in or retire from the Senior Executive Service,” the letter continues.

One of the signatories, Cameron Hamilton, a former Navy SEAL who is a GOP candidate for Virginia’s 7th Congressional District, told Just the News on Friday that many service members and federal employees live in his district, as it includes the Quantico Marine Corps Base. 

He said that because of the “uniqueness of this district,” the vaccine mandate issue is important to many who live there, as he’s spoken with “people who are fully vaccinated but believe the government instituting the mandate was egregious.” 

Hamilton explained that Congress can “freeze funding” for DOD programs until issues are addressed. The legislative branch can “threaten to withhold funding from the DOD until formal inquiries” are made regarding the vaccine mandate and whether laws were violated in its implementation, he said. 

Hamilton hopes that current House chairmen will work to hold DOD leaders accountable and pledges to strongly advocate for it if he’s elected to Congress. 

Hamilton added that there should be a partnership between the three branches of government to ensure accountability and prevent any future violations of law regarding vaccine mandates. The judicial system should hear the cases regarding the harms of the vaccine mandate; the executive branch should “fully investigate” and conduct inquiries into the implementation of the mandate; and Congress should “ensure the laws are strictly adhered to, restrain the overreaching of authority, and “ensure there are no additional violations in the future,” he said.

He also mentioned that he is “seeing a huge number of veterans who are entering the field to run for office” as the vaccine mandate and other issues are getting them “off the sidelines.” While there is already a “huge number this election cycle,” he said he expects “more as the country devolves.” 

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