The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) will not challenge staff on religious exemption requests for the coronavirus vaccine, the Washington Examiner has reported.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough described such claims as "self-executing" and stressed that the department is not "going to challenge the legitimacy of someone’s claims to a religious [exemption]."
However, McDonough did note that Veterans Health Administration (VHA) employees who work in environments that take care of vulnerable veterans could have their requests denied, explaining that "we may have so many people claim religious exception that we can't safely provide care for veterans in those vulnerable situations - in which case, we reserve the right to deny religious exception," Military.com reported.
He stressed that employees who do not receive an exemption and continue to refuse to get vaccinated could be fired.
McDonough made the comments at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, where he also said he expects 5.6 percent of VHA employees (some 21,000 staff members) to seek religious waivers, based on the number who requested an exemption for the flu vaccine in 2020.
The secretary said almost 321,000 employees have already been fully vaccinated against coronavirus as of Tuesday, while 91 percent of staff have uploaded their vaccination status into the tracking system of the department.
The intention of the VA administration not to challenge religious exemptions is in stark contrast to the plans of the military, according to Military.com.
For example, the Air Force has not given even one religious exemption, with the department announcing that there were 4,913 outstanding religious exemption requests.
In addition, the Army, Navy and Marines have also not granted any religious exemptions as of late last month.
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