Trump very quietly starts firing HIV+ service members

Military Troops photo courtesy of Palm Center
Military Troops photo courtesy of Palm Center

As detailed in a Washington Post exclusive, two members of the military that are HIV-positive received notification, just days before Thanksgiving, denying their discharge appeals despite compliance with fitness assessments and medical treatment. They had strong support from commanding officers. Nevertheless, the plaintiffs were found “unfit for continued military service.”

Last week OutServe-SLDN and Lambda Legal, with partner law firm Winston & Strawn, filed a lawsuit on behalf of the two HIV-positive members of the United States Air Force who were given discharge orders just days before the holiday season. The lawsuit, Roe and Voe v. Mattis, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The case was filed anonymously to protect the plaintiffs’ medical privacy.

OutServe Legal Director Peter Perkowski
OutServe Legal Director Peter Perkowski

“Anyone willing to put their life on the line to defend our country deserves respect, not discrimination,” said Peter Perkowski, Legal & Policy Director of OutServe-SLDN. “These Airmen are acknowledged leaders and good at their jobs. They have served honorably for many years. They have the support of their commanders and medical personnel, who state that having HIV will not affect their ability to do their jobs. There is simply no justification for this decision.”

The discharge appeals lawsuit challenges the Pentagon’s discriminatory deployment policies, which prevent Service members living with HIV from deploying outside the United States without a waiver. For years, these policies have restricted the opportunities of Service members with HIV. Now these same deployment restrictions are being used to justify separating Service members solely based on HIV status.

The “Deploy or Get Out” policy, was unveiled by the Trump administration in February 2018. It directs the Pentagon to identify service members who cannot be deployed to military posts outside of the United States for more than 12 consecutive months. The policy is to separate them from military service. Since current U.S. military policy identifies service members living with HIV as non-deployable, they face immediate discharge under this Trump policy.

OutServe-SLDN is also an organizational plaintiff in this case to advance the interests of its members who are living with HIV and serving in the military. Along with Harrison v. Mattis and Deese and Doe v. Mattis, this is the third lawsuit that OutServe-SLDN and Lambda Legal have brought to challenge military policies that discriminate against people living with HIV.

“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,” said Scott Schoettes, Counsel and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal. “These decisions should be based on science, not stigma. Lambda Legal is suing to stop these separations and will keep 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.”

The discharge appeals case is entitled Roe and Voe v. Mattis, et al.  oining Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN on the legal team are attorneys from Winston & Strawn LLP, serving as pro bono counsel.