The 1980 s-era policy that restricted HIV-positive service members from being deployed overseas and promoted into leadership and management positions has been officially ended by the Department of Defense.
The guidance was officially taken effect on Monday, according to a memo sent to military leadership from the Office of Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin. The decades-old policy was struck down by a judge in early April.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema of Eastern Virginia ruled that the Pentagon's classification of HIV as a chronic condition was not reflective of modern scientific understandings of the virus.
In one of two orders, Brinkema banned the Pentagon from separating or discharging asymptomatic HIV-positive service members with undetectable viral loads because they had HIV.
Three men who were accused of discrimination based on their HIV status were involved in the two cases. One of the plaintiffs was Sgt. Nick Harrison, who was denied a promotion because of his HIV status, called the Pentagon reversal a positive move, but said it came only after advocates were forced to resort to kicking and screaming in the court system.
He said I would like to see them go further. The decision is basically doing what the judge told them to do. There is a lot more room for them to do more. Kara Ingelhart, a senior lawyer at Lambda Legal, said the move makes perfect sense from a science-medical stigma standpoint, but also a policy standpoint. She said that the military, the largest employer in the world, not just the country, will no longer be able to treat service members living with HIV differently from others.
Since the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, no employer other than the U.S. military has been allowed to discriminate against potential employees because they have HIV. The policy amendment does not change the current Pentagon policy denying those with HIV from being able to enlist in the military, as noted in the memo Monday.
According to the memo, those who are already service members and have laboratory evidence of HIV infection will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, including access to appropriate treatment and a medical evaluation of fitness for continued service in the same way as a Service member with other chronic or progressive illnesses. They will not be discharged based on their HIV status. Military leaders will convene a working group to develop proposed standards for case-by-case evaluations, which will look at how long service members must display an undetectable viral load and be symptom free, the memo says.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest LGBTQ advocacy group, has called for a policy reversal, which was included among 85 recommendations that the group sent to the incoming Biden administration in November 2020.
The campaign's government affairs director David Stacy, said in a news release that research shows that antiretroviral therapy is highly effective in reducing the risk of HIV transmission to essentially zero. Our military leaders are glad to see that, as we continue to see that a discriminatory policy against service members living with HIV without the backing of medical evidence is unsustainable. Stacy said that the campaign will continue to push for the same policy to be applied to those who want to enlist. This week s announcement was a good first step, but as long as some people are still being discriminated against for no good reason, there is still work to be done, he said.