Advocates call for halt of DOD policy jeopardizing HIV-positive service members

Sergeant Nick Harrison
Sergeant Nick Harrison

Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN have asked a federal court to keep a new Department of Defense policy that could result in the discharge of HIV-positive service members from going into effect. This is a result of the President’s new ‘Deploy or Get Out’ policy. It can push out service members across all branches of the armed forces who are otherwise fit for duty. The February missive directs the Pentagon to discharge those who cannot be deployed to posts outside the U. S. for more than 12 consecutive months.

At the height of the AIDS crisis, a directive was put into place to prevent service members with HIV from deploying overseas. Those diagnosed with HIV while in the military are classified non-deployable and people with HIV are not allowed to enlist at all.

Sergeant Nick Harrison has filed an action, challenging the military’s discriminatory policies which cover the enlistment, deployment, and promotion of service members and their HIV status. “This case is not just about me,” Harrison said. “This is about every person living with HIV knowing that they can perform any job in the world, including serving in the military. Together, we must stop the Pentagon from closing its doors to successful and talented service members. I look forward to the day that I can serve my country to the full extent of my abilities, based on my performance and unfettered by unfounded fears and misperceptions about HIV.”

Since the filing of the action, several HIV-positive service members have been threatened with discharge or been restricted as a result of the President’s directive. It doesn’t take full affect until October 1 of this year.

“Soldiers, sailors, fighter pilots and marines are seeing their promising careers cut short, their dreams of service shattered and their health jeopardized due to antiquated notions about HIV and the stigma that results,” Scott Schoettes, Counsel and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal, said. “This must end. If the court doesn’t intervene, the Trump administration will continue to discharge more promising service members living with HIV, denying them the ability to continue serving their country. Every day, people living with HIV are suffering professional setbacks and losing out on career advancement opportunities, and we are asking this court to put an end to these harmful actions.”