Under the Pentagon’s current policy, service members who are living with HIV are considered non-deployable and are not allowed to enlist or be appointed as officers. That policy is being challenged by a lawsuit filed today by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN on behalf of a sergeant in the DC Army National Guard who is living with HIV.
According to a Lambda Legal press release, Sergeant Nick Harrison was denied the chance to serve as an officer and faces possible discharge because of his HIV status. Specifically, he was denied a position in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps.
The lawsuit, Harrison v. Mattis, could also affect the implementation of the Trump administration’s new “Deploy or Get Out” policy. Announced in February, it directs the Pentagon to seek out service members who cannot be deployed outside the United States for longer than 12 months in a row. Current military procedure considers service members with HIV non-deployable, which means they could face immediate discharge.
Under the Pentagon’s current policy, people living with HIV can not enlist in the military; however, people who contract the virus while serving are allowed to remain as long as they are otherwise healthy. According to The New York Times, Trump’s new policy could mean that 1,823 healthy-but-HIV-positive troops may be forced out of the military.
“After serving in Afghanistan and Kuwait, I knew I wanted to become an officer in the U.S. Army and a leader for all of the great men and women in our armed forces,” Harrison said in the Lambda Legal press release. “I spent years acquiring the training and skills to serve my country as a lawyer. This should be a no-brainer. It’s frustrating to be turned away by the country I have served since I was 23 years old, especially because my HIV has no effect on my service. It was an honor to be chosen to join the JAG Corps for the DC National Guard, and I look forward to my first day on the job.”
A companion lawsuit, Voe v. Mattis, was filed on behalf of an anonymous service member who is living with HIV and whom the Air Force refused to commission as an officer even though medical personnel recommended the military organization do so.
“Nick’s situation is the perfect example of just how archaic and harmful the military policies regarding people living with HIV really are,” said Scott Schoettes, counsel and HIV project director at Lambda Legal. “These oppressive restrictions are based on antiquated science that reinforces stigma and denies perfectly qualified service members the full ability to serve their country. The Pentagon needs to catch up with the 21st century. Recruitment, retention, deployment and commissioning should be based on a candidate’s qualifications to serve, not unfounded fears about HIV. The U.S. Department of Defense is one of the largest employers in the world and, like other employers, is not allowed to discriminate against people living with HIV for no good reason.”
You can read the brief for each case on the press release.
For a POZ profile on Lambda Legal, read “Making the Case for Equality: Lambda Legal fights for LGBT people and everyone living with HIV.”
And for a related POZ cover story, check out “Mission Critical: Fighting to live and serve with HIV in the U.S. military.”