A US Army sergeant who served in Afghanistan and Kuwait is suing the Pentagon’s policies that effectively ban soldiers serving with HIV.
Sergeant Nick Harrison, who serves in the D.C. Army National Guard, says he was denied the opportunity to serve as an officer and faces possible discharge from the United States armed services because he is living with HIV.
The soldier, a veteran of two wars, says he was denied a position in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps – because current Pentagon policy considers service members living with HIV “non-deployable”, and will not allow them to enlist.
Campaigners say the archaic policy does not take account of the fact that people living with HIV who are taking medication cannot pass on the virus and do not pose any risk to others if their viral load is being managed correctly.
Under a policy enacted earlier this year, service members who are considered “non-deployable” for more than 12 consecutive months are targeted with discharge from the service, which activists believe could result in HIV-positive service personnel being discharged.
Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN filed the lawsuit in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia on behalf of Sgt. Harrison.
Trump’s Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is named in the lawsuit.
He said: “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.
“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 honour 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 second lawsuit from Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN represents an anonymous service member living with HIV who was denied a commission in the Air Force despite advice from medical personnel.
Scott Schoettes, Counsel and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal said: “Nick’s situation is the perfect example of just how archaic and harmful the military policies regarding people living with HIV really are.
“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.”
Carlos del Rio, MD, professor of global health and medicine at Emory University and Co-Director of the Emory Center for AIDS Research, said: “Living with HIV today is much different than it was 25 years ago.
“Today, with appropriate treatment, there is no reason a person living with HIV shouldn’t be able to serve in any capacity in the military.”
Peter Perkowski, Legal Director of OutServe-SLDN said: “Nick has every quality Americans want in a member of our armed services: dedication, intelligence, and a burning desire to serve his country.
“The military has spent thousands of dollars training Nick to be a soldier, a lawyer, and a leader – now they are turning their backs on him.”
“The Air Force likewise spent tens of thousands educating Voe at one of the premier military academies in the country, yet then sent him packing.
“What happened to them could happen to any service member with HIV, especially given the DoD’s recent ‘Deploy or Get Out’ policy.
“It is time for the DoD to come out of the dark ages, update its HIV policies and revise its thinking on the deploy or get out mentality.”
The military has also faced legal action over the Trump administration’s ban on transgender troops.