On Wednesday, Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX) sent a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Denis R. McDonough that in no uncertain terms lays out concerns in how the Biden administration's vaccine mandate will affect veterans and VA employees, as well as the care they seek. Townhall received an exclusive first look at the letter, which calls on Secretary McDonough to grant all religious and medical exemptions when it comes to veterans who are opposed to receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, "immediately" and reminds McDonough that the VA "should put veterans first – not partisan politics."
First Look Exclusive! Article coming from me! A letter from @chiproytx does not mince words in demanding to know of VA Department how veterans care will be affected by vaccine mandates. Further, he calls on VA to grant religious/medical exemptions “immediately.” pic.twitter.com/POeEpVtS2f— Rebecca Downs (@RebeccaRoseGold) May 4, 2022
As the congressman lays out in his letter, he has long been vocally opposed to vaccine mandates. "These vaccine mandates are unacceptable and antithetical to the freedoms the veterans you serve fought to defend," he says.
The congressman notes that he represents "thousands of veterans who reside in rural area," and that he is "particularly disturbed by the impact firing thousands of VA medical staff will have on veterans’ access to care." Roy points to how "2.7 million veterans reside in rural areas and face unique challenges due to medical staff shortages and long distances to VA medical facilities," citing the VA's own website. "I fear these vaccine mandates will not only exacerbate these issues but will also increase VA wait times for veterans across the country" he goes on to write, calling that "an unacceptable outcome."
When it comes to those requests for exemptions, Rep. Roy explains "I am deeply troubled by reports that the VA may not accept all employees’ religious or medical vaccine exemption requests. A number of VA employees have contacted my office worried that they will have to choose between the job they love or following tenets of their faith." He goes on to once more call this "unacceptable," as he requests that McDonough "immediately grant all religious and medical exemption requests for the COVID-19 vaccine."
Before listing out his 11 requests, Roy poignantly closed his letter by pointing out that "As a country founded on religious liberty, there is no right more precious than this. Your Administration is bound by the Constitution to protect these rights."
Roy asks of McDonough how many VA employees have requested a religious or medical exemption for the vaccine, as well as how many exemptions have been granted and how many have been denied. When it comes to those denied, Rep. Roy also wants to know how VA employees can appeal the decision, and how many have been fired or reassigned for failure to comply with the vaccine mandate.
Further, when it comes to religious and medical exemption requests, the congressman wants to know what matrix is being used to evaluate them, along with having written guidance provided, and to know what the VA is doing to ensure there is consistency on these requests.
The questions Roy asks also highlights costs and potential staffing issues when it comes to punishing those who don't comply with vaccine mandates. He's requesting the cost associated with separating or transferring those employees, as well as the total cost associated with replacing such vacancies with new hires.
On how the mandate will affect those veterans in rural areas, as defined by the Rural-Urban Commuting Areas (RUCA) will be impacted by that loss of staff, Roy is also looking for an analysis of how any loss of medical staff due to the mandate will impact VA wait times.
Finally, the congressman is looking to be provided with "educational" matters given to VA employees who refuse the vaccine.
Requiring that federal employees be vaccinated against COVID-19, and even attempting to force private employers to mandate such vaccines, has been something of a hallmark of this Biden administration, though the latter was ultimately found unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in January.
The congressman is onto something when it comes to his concerns about staffing shortages, as vaccine mandates caused such a shortage late last year among healthcare professionals. When it comes to the VA specifically, the Biden administration now wants to tap into veteran affairs sources not merely for vaccine mandates, but to deal with the crisis at the southern border, as Spencer covered last week.