Two members of the U.S. Air Force have been discharged because they are living with HIV, alleges a lawsuit filed this week against Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, reports The Washington Post.
The two airmen received discharge notices days before Thanksgiving. They appealed but were denied despite receiving strong support from their commanding officers and complying with fitness assessments and medical treatment, according to a press release by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN, which partnered with law firm Winston & Strawn to file the case. The lawsuit, titled Roe and Voe vs. Mattis, was filed anonymously to protect the two men.
Lambda Legal is a nonprofit legal defense group that fights for HIV and LGBT communities; OutServe-SLDN is an association that serves LGBTQ veterans and military members.
“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, in the press release. “These decisions should be based on science, not stigma. 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.”
In February 2018, Trump announced a new “Deploy or Get Out” policy. It orders the discharge of service members who cannot be deployed for 12 consecutive months, regardless of their fitness or ability to serve.
Current Pentagon policy states that service members who contract HIV while in the military are considered non-deployable, which means they now face discharge. What’s more, they cannot be appointed as officers.
Specific to this case, as the Washington Post reports, the military bans service members with HIV from deploying to the Middle East and that is where most Air Force members are expected to be sent. Because the two airmen were in fields likely to deploy there, the thinking goes, Mattis wanted them discharged.
Both active airmen in this latest lawsuit tested positive for HIV last year. They are taking daily medication and have been deemed by doctors to be fit to deploy, according to the newspapers. Both had planned to pursue long careers in the military.
Earlier this year, Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN filed cases against this policy. For more on that, click here. And for a recent POZ interview with Peter Perkowski, the legal and policy director for OutServe-SLDN, read “Stronger Together.”