Senators to SecDef: DoD is still not 'properly prioritizing' health and safety of troops

Elizabeth Howe
August 27, 2020 - 12:56 pm
US Army COVID-19

DoD

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Nine Democratic senators are calling on Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to "properly prioritize the health and well-being of our servicemembers" against COVID-19 -- something they argue the Department of Defense has yet to do. 

The senators, led by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., wrote a second letter to Esper -- after the first from April 27 did not yield the results they wanted -- expressing "surprise," "concern," and "disappointment" regarding the DoD's ongoing efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within the ranks. 

"To be clear: our motivation is to protect the health and wellbeing of service members and their families, and our concerns are with you and the civilian leadership at DoD who are responsible for keeping American servicemembers and their families safe and ready to accomplish their missions," the letter reads. 

As of Wednesday, the Department of Defense had reported more than 53,000 COVID-19 cases across the force including 36,600 among military personnel. 

While the death rates among DoD-affiliated individuals have been consistently lower than the national rate, the DoD has still reported 80 deaths in total. This month alone, deaths among military personnel doubled from three total to six

The letter ends with a list of questions repeated from the first letter the senators sent to Esper at the end of April. They were "disappointed" that DoD chose not to answer those questions the first time around. 

The senators want to know more about DoD's testing, prevention and medical equipment; plans to conduct surveillance testing, implement longterm mitigation procedures, and maintain full operationality; and the full results of the reported war game that DoD conducted in 2019 that very closely mirrored the current pandemic. 

"Congress stands ready to support the Department, but we cannot do so if basic questions are not answered regarding DoD’s response," the letter reads.

The letters cosigners include Democratic Sens. Mazie Hirono, Hawaii, Patty Murray, Wash., Richard Blumenthal, Conn., Jeff Merkley, Ore., Sherrod Brown, Ohio, Ron Wyden, Ore., Amy Klobuchar, Minn., and Ed Markey, Mass.

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Reach Elizabeth Howe on Twitter @ECBHowe.

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