U.S. Representative Jim Banks (R-IN), Chairman of the Military Personnel Subcommittee, delivered the following opening remarks at a hearing on COVID-19’s impact on the Department of Defense and its servicemembers.
The hearing will now come to order. I want to welcome everyone to our first hearing of the Military Personnel subcommittee of the 118TH Congress. Today’s hearing is focused on COVID-19’s Impact on the Department of Defense and its Service Members.
I want to thank our witnesses for being with us today and for their service in support of the Department of Defense and for the Military Departments.
I also want to thank the thousands of service-members: Active duty, Reservists and Guard Members who answered the call… and put service in front of self… to support COVID-19 operations throughout the United States. Let alone the those serving in our VA and civilian healthcare facilities who were on the front lines in the battle against COVID-19… and of course… the men and women serving as emergency responders whether they were police, firefighters or in another capacity… we could not have beaten COVID-19 without your efforts. Thank you!!!
Although not the focus of today’s hearing… I would be remiss if I did not mention the need to understand the origins of COVID-19 and the role China played in a pandemic that killed over 1.1 million innocent Americans to include 96 military service-members. There is no doubt that China must be held accountable for its actions in the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now for this hearing… I understand there was a flurry of activity late on Friday afternoon and through the weekend with DoD and the Services releasing implementing guidance on the COVID-19 vaccination recission.
This is good news for our service-members and their families… However, the timing of the release of these policies… essentially two business days before this hearing is curious….
I think this Committee’s aggressive oversight… was instrumental in getting the implementing guidance released. There is nothing like the threat of a hearing… and the potential to be called to task for not complying with a statute… to prompt action.
While I’m glad to see DoD and the Services now implementing the recission… note the NDAA was signed into law on December 23, 2022, and SECDEF’s initial guidance was issued on January 10, 2023, all of the recission guidance should have been completed within 30 days of the signing of the NDAA. Yet here we are at the end of February… almost March before this guidance was promulgated.
I’m also disappointed in the lack of responsiveness of DoD and the Military Department to get back to the Committee on questions that are important to our oversight responsibilities… and also our service members.
So much so, that Chairman Rogers and I found it necessary to write a letter to Secretary Austin with a whole host of questions on COVID-19. I note that OSD choose to send their reply to this letter last night giving us a little time to review the responses. …
I also have to mention that many of our Committee Members are disappointed with DoD’s issuance of it’s Reproductive Health Care policy or as many call it… the DoD abortion Travel policy.
While this will not be the focus of today’s hearing, the release of this policy was rolled out with no advance discussion with the Committee and serves as another example of the Biden Administration using the Department of Defense as a social reform laboratory.
Finally, because this is our first hearing in 2023, I would like to acknowledge that this year marks the 50th anniversary of our transition to an all-volunteer force. Fiscal year 2022 was the single worst year for military recruiting since that transition—and it’s important for this subcommittee to figure out why.
As far as our hearing today, I am looking forward to this discussion and affording our Members the opportunity to ask their questions on DoD’s response to COVID-19.
House Armed Services Committee
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