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Lankford moves to block Pentagon policy docking pay of unvaccinated National Guard members

Members of the National Guard walk past the U.S. Capitol during the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.
Members of the National Guard walk past the U.S. Capitol during the second impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump.

Oklahoma U.S. Senator James Lankford has submitted an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would prohibit withholding pay from unvaccinated National Guard members.

A Pentagon directive says Guard members who refuse to get their COVID-19 shots will not be allowed at required training, and if they can’t train, they won’t be paid.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said President Joe Biden’s vaccination mandate for the military is a matter of readiness. Lankford said docking Guard members’ pay is not a punishment allowed under U.S. Code.

"The consequences for a Guard unit not being ready is to cut off funding to the state. That's how this section worked. In fact, even just a few years ago, in an NDAA just like what we're debating, there was a section to allow the DoD to be able to reach into units, to take on and punish individuals with their pay, and that was blocked here in this body," Lankford said.

Lankford described the new policy as unfair toward Guard members families for putting their military health insurance at risk.

"It is terrible for the morale, even, because the Pentagon gave one set of rules to the Army Guard and another set of rules to the Air Guard, and these individuals as of this weekend will not be paid anymore," Lankford said.

Thursday was the deadline for Air National Guard members to be fully vaccinated. Army National Guard troops must be fully vaccinated by Dec. 15 if they’ll be mobilized on federal orders. Nearly two-thirds of Guard members are fully vaccinated, according to figures provided in late November.

The defense spending bill Lankford offered the amendment to is currently stalled over a dispute on amendment votes. There's growing concern among Senate leadership the bill won't be passed before year's end.

The Pentagon announced the policy for unvaccinated Guard members after Austin denied Gov. Kevin Stitt's request to exempt Oklahoma Guard members from the vaccine requirement.

Matt Trotter joined KWGS as a reporter in 2013. Before coming to Public Radio Tulsa, he was the investigative producer at KJRH. His freelance work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and on MSNBC and CNN.