Lankford Stands with National Guard, Opposes Pay Cuts Over Vaccine Mandates
CLICK HERE to watch Lankford’s remarks on YouTube.
WASHINGTON, DC – Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today stood firmly with the Oklahoma National Guard and Guard members around the nation and called for a vote on the Senate floor to offer his amendment to the Fiscal Year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would prohibit the Department of Defense from discharging or withholding pay or benefits from members of the National Guard because of their COVID–19 vaccination status.
Members and leaders of the Oklahoma National Guard have reached out to Lankford’s office to express their grave concerns as earlier this week Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin released a memorandum to warn unvaccinated National Guard members that they will not be paid or allowed to participate in training, and deployments if they don’t receive a COVID-19 vaccine. While the Defense Secretary can establish readiness requirements, he lacks the constitutional or statutory authority to enforce this type of requirement on Soldiers and Airmen within a state when the National Guard are not federally “activated” or deployed in defense of the nation. That power and authority regarding the Oklahoma National Guard is reserved to Governor Stitt at this time. Lankford’s amendment ensures Congress clearly maintains that important distinction with regard to the COVID-19 vaccination status.
Lankford has been vocal about President Biden’s Executive Order. Lankford introduced the COVID-19 Vaccine Dishonorable Discharge Prevention Act with Senator Roger Marshall, M.D. (R-KS) to prohibit the Department of Defense from giving service members a dishonorable discharge for choosing not to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.
Lankford sent a letter to President Biden outlining his concerns with the vaccine mandates and has stood firmly with Oklahoma service members, health care workers, federal employees, and private-sector workers who have chosen so far not to be vaccinated. Lankford called out President Biden and Department of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin for not responding to a letter he sent in September calling on Austin to protect service members from being forced to choose between their sincerely held religious beliefs and serving in our nation’s military or National Guard.
So here's my problem. Yesterday, and I mean yesterday, Secretary of Defense released out a memorandum, the memorandum was about pay for National Guard members and the vaccine. We have National Guard members in very large numbers and percentages all around the country that have not been vaccinated at this point.
Now, there's two sets of rules for the National Guard. One for the Air National Guard. Their deadline for the vaccination is tomorrow. Now, remember this memorandum came out yesterday. Their deadline for the vaccination is tomorrow, December 2. For the Army National Guard, their deadline is June 30. So two sets of rules for the Air National Guard and for the Army National Guard. Completely different. Six months apart, plus.
For the Air National Guard, this word came out yesterday with this statement, “No Department of Defense funding may be allocated for payment of duties performed under Title 32 for members of the National Guard who do not comply with the Department of Defense COVID-19 vaccination requirements.” And then this statement, “No credit or excused absence shall be afforded to members who don’t participate in drills, training or other duty due to failure to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.”
What does this mean in real life? In real life it means as of tomorrow, members of the Air National Guard—not the Army National Guard, they have six more months plus—but members of the Air National Guard, as of tomorrow, even if they're not on federal duty, will no longer be paid, no longer be allowed to drill. That means this coming weekend Air National Guard members that were headed to drill, that have not been vaccinated, can't drill.
What does that mean in real life? Well, National Guard members don't get TRICARE taken and get that free and taken care of and provided for by the taxpayers like active duty does. To get TRICARE for them, it comes out of their check. If they're not getting a check, then it interrupts their payments. So what the Secretary of Defense did yesterday was announce that Air National Guard members, as of this weekend, will not be paid anymore, will not be allowed to drill anymore, and we have thousands of them all over the country. At the last check, the Guard had about 50 percent compliance on the vaccination. In some areas of the Guard, they've had very serious concerns.
Let me just identify this, not just as a readiness issue, that we have individuals that have served in the Guard for years that now are suddenly not going to be paid and will have their insurance at risk. It's not just that, but this is also a federalism issue.
I know this gets lost in the conversation. The National Guard is not active duty. They're not Reservists. The National Guard, when under Title 32, they actually work for the state. The National Guard in my state works for the governor of my state. The governor of my state is their commander in chief. According to the United States Constitution, for the Guard members, their officers are selected by the governor of the state. That's how we set up the National Guard. It's not the active duty. It's not the Reserves. They're different.
Their time, when federally connected, is when they're called up [under] what's called ‘Title 10.’ And the United States president actually calls them up, and they shift from Title 32 under the state's authority to Title 10.
Want to know what the separations are, even in funding? Let me make it clear. The way the statute actually lays this out, Title 32, section 108, if there's a Guard unit that's not complying, then DOD can cut funding to the state. Not to individual members. What is this memorandum? It's not cutting funding to the state. It's cutting funding to individuals that are within the Guard. That is not allowed in Title 32, section 108. The consequences for a Guard unit not being ready is to cut off funding to the state. That's how the section worked.
In fact, even just a few years ago, in an NDAA just like what we're debating, there was a section to allow the DOD to be able to reach into units and to be able to take on and punish individuals with their pay, and that was blocked here in this body. It was not allowed. But this Administration is going around Congress, around the states, reaching into individual Airmen and docking their pay. And so far, this body is letting them. That is a terrible precedent. That is terrible for the families in this National Guard unit. It is terrible for the morale even because the pentagon gave one set of rules to the Army Guard and another set of rules to the Air Guard, and these individuals, as of this weekend, will not be paid anymore—unless this body acts.
So my request is very straightforward. The amendment that I bring to the floor protects the National Guard, not just in my state, all over the entire country because there are Air Guard members in every one of our states that are worried about what's going to happen tomorrow to them, when they have been faithfully serving their country.
And all that I ask is we file this simple amendment, we allow a vote on this simple amendment in this body, and we prohibit the discharging of the withholding of pay and benefits to National Guard members based on their COVID-19 vaccination status. It's very straightforward. It's very clean. It does nothing but say we stand with our National Guard members, and we will not allow their pay to be cut, not only because we stand with them individually but we also disagree with the interpretation of the Pentagon, who is not allowed to reach into a unit, select individual members, and not pay them.
That's not the way that it works under section Title 32, section 108. So, yes, I ask to modify the request to include my amendment 4863.
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