WASHINGTON – Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, delivered the following opening statement at a committee hearing entitled “Update on the Department of Defense’s Evolving Roles and Mission in Response to the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important hearing today.
- Since the earliest days of the pandemic, the U.S. military has been on the front lines of the response, providing critical support to civilian authorities at the federal, state, and local levels.
- They repatriated thousands of Americans;
- hosted dozens of quarantine, testing, and vaccination sites;
- deployed its two hospital ships and set up military field hospitals to surge healthcare capacity in hard-hit areas;
- provided thousands of ventilators and millions of respirators and other PPE to civilian authorities; and
- helped develop the therapeutics and vaccines under Operation Warp Speed that are saving our lives and putting an end to this pandemic.
- For this, we are eternally grateful. And while I know there’s a desire to see the DoD do more to assist civilian authorities, I am primarily concerned with the impact COVID is having on our military readiness.
Over the past year, nearly 200 Navy ships have suffered outbreaks, which in some cases have disrupted training or operations. Across the services, hundreds of training exercises have been cancelled, curtailed, or altered. This is especially problematic for our service members overseas who rely on international exercises to maintain proficiency. At our shipyards and depots and across the industrial base, COVID workforce reductions are cutting production capacity, delaying maintenance cycles, and pushing planned work back by months.
While the services have done a tremendous job to mitigate these impacts and keep our troops on station, I remain worried about the cumulative impact they’re having on readiness. I am also very concerned with the lack of progress the DoD is making in vaccinating our service members.
It’s my understanding that since the vaccines have only received emergency use authorization from the FDA, the DoD is reluctant to make vaccinations mandatory at this time.
The Department typically waits on full FDA approval before issuing orders to vaccinate. However, it could be another 2 years before these vaccines receive full FDA approval. With new variants are popping up across the globe, I’m not sure we can wait that long.
It’s critical for our national security that every service member, as well as DoD civilian personnel and contractors, receive vaccines as soon as possible.
I am interested to hear from our witnesses what percentage of our service members have been vaccinated, what the refusal rate has been, and what steps they are taking to get more shots into arms.
Finally, my job is to ensure our service members have the resources they need to successfully carry out their mission. This pandemic is making that mission much harder.
I hope our witnesses will explain what more Congress can do to help the services adapt and overcome.
Thank you for being here today. I look forward to your testimony.