Judge rules US military can’t discharge HIV-positive troops

A federal judge in Virginia recently ruled that U.S. service members found to be HIV-positive cannot be discharged or prevented from becoming an officer just because they are infected with the virus.

The cases that rose to the court involved two service members that the United States Air Force attempted to discharge, in addition to Sgt. Nick Harrison, a D.C. Army National Guardsman, who was rejected from a position in the Judge Advocate general (JAG) Corps. 

Advocates for those with the virus have said the ruling is one of the strongest they have seen in years in favor of people living with HIV.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema wrote in a written order dated April 6 that her ruling stops the military from taking any actions against the plaintiffs as well as any other asymptomatic HIV-positive service member with a viral load that is undetectable “because they are classified as ineligible for worldwide deployment … due to their HIV-positive status.” 

Attorney for the plaintiffs, Peter Perkowski, called the ruling “a landmark victory – probably the biggest ruling in favor of people living with HIV in the last 20 years.”

He went on to say, “The military was the last employer in the country that had a policy against people living with HIV. Every other employer – including first responders – is subject to rules that prohibit discrimination based on HIV status.” 

The Department of Justice argued in the case that the Air Force determined the two airmen could not perform their duties as their career fields required them to deploy frequently, and the DOJ said their condition prevented them from deploying to the U.S. Central Command’s area of responsibility.

That command, which governs military operations in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia, prohibits all those with HIV from deploying without a waiver.

Now, though, because HIV treatment has become more effective at managing the virus and reducing the risk of transmission, such a ban is no longer justified, according to Judge James Wynn Jr., who wrote in an earlier ruling on the case. 




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