The Trump administration has quietly begun to discharge HIV+ soldiers from the U.S. military.
Despite the fact that they qualify for active duty according to fitness assessments and medical treatment, and strong support from their commanding officers, two airmen were informed shortly before Thanksgiving that they were found “unfit for continued military service.”
They are suing Defense Secretary Jim Mattis after receiving the news they were being discharged.
The lawsuit, filed by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN in conjunction with the law firm Winston & Strawnon, argues the Pentagon’s decision violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause and federal law.
From The Washington Post:
Both active-duty airmen tested positive for HIV last year during Air Force screenings. After they started antiretroviral treatments, their doctors deemed them asymptomatic and physically fit to deploy, and their commanders backed their continued service. They intended to pursue lengthy Air Force careers after serving for more than half a decade in logistics and maintenance roles.
Last month, however, the two airmen received word that they had been deemed unfit for military service and would be discharged. The stated reason: The U.S. military bans personnel with HIV from deploying to the Middle East, where the majority of Air Force members are expected to go.
Both airmen say they can deploy with no problem as long as they take a supply of medication with them.
According to the CDC, most people diagnosed as HIV+ who take antiretroviral medications on a regular basis find themselves with undetectable viral loads which means the virus cannot be transmitted to others.
One of the airmen told The Washington Post he'd already been deployed to the Middle East twice, and both times his duty didn't require him to leave his base where proper medical facilities were available.
Neither men were given the option of alternative jobs, which they say they would have accepted.
In February this year, the Trump administration announced its “Deploy or Get Out” policy which ordered the Pentagon to identify service members who cannot be deployed to military posts outside of the United States for more than 12 consecutive months and to separate them from military service.
Because current U.S. military policy labels service members living with HIV as ‘non-deployable,’ they face immediate discharge under this Trump policy.
Since 1991, all HIV positive applicants have been banned from joining the U.S. military. Instinct recently wrote about Navy Cadet Kevin Deese who was discharged in 2014 one month before graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy after a routine blood test revealed he was positive.
Scott Schoettes, Counsel and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal, issued a statement, which read in part, “It’s disgusting that the Trump Administration is sending some men and women in uniform home for the holidays without jobs simply because of their HIV status.”
“These decisions should be based on science, not stigma,” he added. “Lambda Legal is suing to stop these separations and will not stop fighting until President Trump understands that there’s not a job in the world a person living with HIV cannot safely perform, including the job of soldier.”