Military ignores members seeking justice after ‘unlawful’ vaccine mandate

By J.M. Phelps

A U.S. Navy corpsman administers a U.S. Marine with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Jan. 15, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Rachel K. Young-Porter)
A U.S. Navy corpsman administers a U.S. Marine with the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine on Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Jan. 15, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Rachel K. Young-Porter)

Midway through 2024, members of the U.S. Armed Forces continue to demand answers regarding the thousands of denials of religious accommodation service members requested in response to the military’s controversial 2021 COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

One of them is Lt. Chad Coppin, who retired Monday after 22 years, three months and five days in the U.S. Coast Guard. Toward the end of his career, Coppin faced an uphill battle against the Department of Homeland Security’s enforcement of the now-rescinded mandate.

Like thousands of others across all branches of service, Coppin’s request for religious accommodation was initially denied. In the months to follow, his appeal of the decision was also denied. He found himself in the process of being discharged via an administrative separation board for refusing to comply with the mandate.

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“The only reason I did not get discharged when others did was because it is much more difficult to get rid of a commissioned officer as per U.S. law,” Coppin told WND. “An enlisted member is on a contract and can be kicked to the curb for little more than the ‘needs of the service.'”

For Coppin, he was in the middle of the formal separation process from the Coast Goard when the mandate was rescinded in January 2023. “I was left in my job to continue on as normal, as if nothing happened,” he told WND.

“Meanwhile, the fallout was huge, trust was lost and hundreds of Coast Guard families lost their careers and were treated horribly.”

Although he is now retired after two decades of honorable service, Coppin still questions the Coast Guard’s blanket denial of religious accommodation, particularly the “Religious Accommodations Appeal Generator” that allowed Coast Guard adjudicators to “select from a pre-populated list of two dozen possible religious objections or noted defects that applicants had raised in the initial dismissal decision.”

According to Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, a letter to Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda L. Fagan alleged that the nation’s premiere maritime first responder “created a digital tool to assist in more efficiently denying appeals.”

Six Air Force airmen assigned to the 31st Medical Group receive their first Moderna COVID-19 vaccination at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Jan. 8, 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. K. Tucker Owen)
Six Air Force airmen assigned to the 31st Medical Group receive their first Moderna COVID-19 vaccination at Aviano Air Base, Italy, Jan. 8, 2021.

Knowing this, Coppin told the Gateway Pundit he began to investigate the Coast Guard’s refusal process. Working for Fox News at the time, Kelly Laco shared a document with him that had “wording on how to deny religious accommodation based on where an individual was stationed.” For example, the locations included an air station, a cutter or a land unit, he explained.

Upon reading the document concerning his own religious accommodation denial, he noticed that the job description did not match his actual assignment as a Chief Inspections Division of Sector Southeast Alaska. “I worked shoreside,” Coppin told WND, “but it made it sound like I was attached to a cutter or small boat station.”

In other words, said Coppin, “[The Coast Guard] copied and pasted the wrong paragraph into [my] denial, one that would have fit best with a member of a small boat station – the exact opposite of my actual job!”

Coppin responding by writing an affidavit and entering the error into the court record. He also approached senior leadership and a Coast Guard headquarters office to no avail. Despite explaining the “ridiculous” mishap, he was simply told by a commander at Coast Guard Headquarters (CG-133) to resubmit his religious accommodation request. For Coppin, this was a “foolish response.”

In March 2022, Coppin submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the U.S. Coast Guard Commandant (CG-6P), asking for any and all information related to the denial of his religious accommodation request and denial.

“I’ve asked for everything electronic, voice-related, or written,” he told WND, adding that “I submitted a signed statement that I would pay their $192 estimated fees for their response as they requested.”

“It’s now closing in on two-and-a-half years and I still haven’t received any of the information I requested,” he said. To date, the only information he has received from the Coast Guard FOIA office was “a 38-page document about all these other people’s FOIAs information and requests, including private entities and various law firms.” For Coppin, this should be “an incredible embarrassment” to the sender.

“At a minimum, they just committed a Privacy Act violation and they don’t care. They’ve never gotten back to me or acknowledged their blunder,” he explained.

“It’s not like I asked one time and I quit,” Coppin noted. “I’ve asked multiple times for follow-ups on all this and I’ve been ignored.” He is aware of other “Coasties” who have been subject to the same situation and have also had their FOIA requests ignored. Still others, he said, “have gotten their FOIA requests, and they’ve come to them so heavily redacted that you can’t make any sense of them.”

“These heavily redacted FOIA requests are not new for the Coast Guard,” he told WND. “On June 11, 2024, at an oversight committee hearing with Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Fagan,” he said, “Sen. Johnson held up an almost all-blacked-out piece of paper the USCG had submitted in relation to the Operation Fouled Anchor sexual assault scandal that the USCG is being accused of covering up.” Redacted documents can be viewed at the 14-min mark on the video hearing covered by C-SPAN.

Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Kyle Massey, assigned to the submarine tender USS Emory S. Land, administers the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Machinist Mate 3rd Class Brandy Mingus, also assigned to Emory S. Land, at Mare Island Dry Dock, in Vallejo, California, March 18, 2021. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Zachary Grooman)
Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Kyle Massey, assigned to the submarine tender USS Emory S. Land, administers the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Machinist Mate 3rd Class Brandy Mingus, also assigned to Emory S. Land, at Mare Island Dry Dock, in Vallejo, California, March 18, 2021.

“The Coast Guard is not being transparent, and Congress needs to hold them accountable. Someone needs to ramp up their oversight efforts,” Coppin asserted. “I and the other 1,200-plus Coast Guard members that were unjustly denied, just want the truth and accountability because we know 100% that they illegally used a method to deny us all.”

“If the Coast Guard was serious about us being a family and looking out for each other as shipmates,” he argued, “they need to start with accountability.” For Coppin, “Accountability is the foundational element to bring back trust in senior leadership, and until that happens, we will have a broken service. … The American public deserves so much better.”

“Our Coast Guard exists to safeguard and serve the American public, to rescue those in distress, stop illegal drug trafficking and protect our environment,” he stated. “How are we to continue to do that well if we can’t trust our own leadership? The COVID shot mandate debacle is just one instance of many, as to why the efforts of the Declaration of Military Accountability are so important for the integrity of our military to our nation.” Readers can sign the petition there, in support of 231 service members and veterans who originally signed the declaration.

“Is there any chance Congress will hold someone accountable for the unlawful mandate and its ridiculous implementation?” Coppin asked.

Coast Guard Office of FOIA and Privacy (CG-6P) didn’t respond to requests by WND for comment about the status of Coppin’s request.

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