About 3,000 of the Department of Veterans Affairs' 380,000 employees have failed to report their vaccine status, as the VA requires, and face disciplinary action, which could include being fired.
To date, however, no one has faced termination, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said this week.
Roughly 90% of the VA's workforce has complied with the department's vaccine mandate, which set an Oct. 8 deadline for health care workers and those who interact with veterans. The deadline was Nov. 22 for all other employees.
Of the remaining 10%, nearly all have applied for a medical waiver or religious exemption. But roughly 3,000 employees, or less than 1% of the workforce, have not complied with a requirement to report their vaccination status.
McDonough said the department's priority is to get its employees immunized, not expedite their removal from employment.
"No one has yet been fired. ... We are exercising [our] authority principally at the moment along the counseling and education [efforts]," he said. "The defenses vaccination gives, even against omicron with its multiple variations, underscores the importance of ensuring [compliance]."
McDonough did not say how many medical and religious exemptions have been approved, but the VA has taken an approach that accepts a physician's opinion on medical decisions and is not challenging most requests for religious exemptions.
However, waiver requests for some employees, including those who work with veterans in nursing homes, intensive care units, spinal cord injury centers and cancer units, will be scrutinized, he added.
In those places, "we can't have high concentrations of religious exceptions. We retain the right to challenge those. Exactly how we do that, we're working through," McDonough said.
This week, more than 13,000 VA employees were out of work over COVID-19, either having it themselves or isolating because of being exposed. Since the start of the pandemic in February 2020, 243 VA employees have died.
Coronavirus cases among VA patients and workers are at all-time highs, with more than 63,000 active cases this week, as the result of the more contagious omicron variant. More than 18,640 VA patients have died of COVID-19, including 7,126 in VA hospitals.
With the increase in cases nationwide, the VA has opened up some facilities to non-VA patients with COVID-19. It currently has 130 beds available in 10 states, McDonough said.
The pandemic, which originated in late 2019, has killed nearly 5.6 million people worldwide, including 860,564 in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.