An Arizona Republican lawmaker is calling for the Defense Department to reconsider its coronavirus accessions policy, days after the Pentagon issued new guidance narrowing its ban on bringing COVID-19 survivors into the military to those who had been hospitalized for the disease.
Rep. Andy Biggs warned of the unintended consequences of the ban in a Monday letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
“If an individual can pass the Military Entrance Processing Station screening process ― despite a hospitalization for coronavirus ― they should be allowed to serve,” Biggs wrote. “I agree that more research is needed to study the long-term effects of coronavirus on the human body. However, I do not think that the lack of research available warrants permanently disqualifying patriotic Americans from serving in the military.”
An undated MEPS memo obtained posted to Twitter last week specified that a COVID-19 diagnosis would “permanently disqualify” a recruit from processing, though days later, MEPS updated that guidance to only include those who had been hospitalized after a diagnosis.
A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on Biggs’ letter.
Uncertainty about the long-term affects of the virus ― including respiratory or other systemic damage and susceptibility to re-infection ― has called into question whether contracting the virus could result in health issues down the road.
At the same time, the Pentagon has been working to test every new trainee for the virus, with an eye toward manning and readiness consequences if the accessions process is considerably slowed down during the pandemic.
To that end, Biggs expressed concern that barring any COVID-19 survivors would be a waste of willingness to serve.
“For many across our country, the American-led coronavirus response has instilled a sense of patriotism and devotion to duty,” he said. “We must honor that unique commitment ... We must not let the Chinese Communist Party’s irresponsibility to control this virus infringe on our fellow Americans’ honorable desire to serve our country.”
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.