WASHINGTON — About 21,000 nondeployable troops have been forced out of the ranks since the Defense Department’s “deploy or get out” policy began last summer, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan announced on Thursday.

“A key element of strengthening our military and increasing lethality is ensuring our warfighters achieve established physical, mental and security vetting standards,” he told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee during a hearing on the fiscal 2020 budget request.

“War is unforgiving, and our mission demands we remain a standards-based organization.”

Last year, Defense Department officials estimated that about 11 percent of active-duty troops — some 235,000 — were rated as nondeployable. Almost half of that number were individuals missing medical exams or paperwork, troops nearing retirement and women service members who were pregnant.

But the remaining 126,000 faced a range of short- and long-term injuries, or simply failed to meet military fitness standards. Military officials said those individuals would be given up to 12 months to prove their deployability or be pushed out of the services.

Pregnant, recently pregnant and combat-wounded troops are exempt from the standards. Each of the services has also revamped their classification and reporting requirements, to more accurately track troops’ readiness.

Defense officials have set a goal for each service of no more than 5 percent of its total force classified as nondeployable. Shanahan said that in just a few months, the percentage of nondeployable troops has dropped to about 5.4 percent.

“In upholding systematically applied standards, we ensure the readiness of our joint force and cohesion of our units,” Shanahan said.

Troops who officials determine will not be able to meet the deployment standards can be forced out of the military in less than 12 months.

Shanahan said the moves are in line with broader department goals of increasing readiness among the services.

“We recognize restoring military readiness, modernizing our joint force and increasing lethality will not happen overnight, but … we are making meaningful progress,” he said.

Reporter Tara Copp contributed to this story.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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