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With news of the Trump Administration unfairly discharging service members because of their HIV-positive status, GLAAD, OutServe-SLDN, and Lambda Legal are partnering together to provide a media reference guide to help reporters cover this sensitive topic.
Summary: The United States Armed Forces are the only employer in the nation that are still being permitted to discriminate against people living with HIV. Americans who are living with HIV cannot:
- Join the military
- Attend a military academy
- Be commissioned as an officer, if already enlisted;
- Deploy without a waiver, which are rarely granted. [DoDI 6130.01, DoDI 6485.01, DoDI 6490.07]
Facts and Figures
An estimated 1,200 service members currently identify as HIV positive. [See Update: Routine Screening for Antibodies to Human Immunodeficiency Virus, Civilian Applicants for U.S. Military Service and U.S. Armed Forces, Active and Reserve Components, January 2012–June 2017, Vol. 24 No. 9, Med. Surveillance Monthly Rpt. 8, 8–14 (Defense Health Agency, Sept. 2017).]
Approximately 350 new diagnoses of HIV every year among all components of the US Armed Forces. [Update: Routine screening for antibodies to human immunodeficiency virus, civil applicants for U.S. military service, and U.S. Armed Forces, active and reserve components, January 2013-June 2018, Vol. 25, No. 9, Medical Surveillance Monthly Report (Defense Health Agency, Sept 2018).]
Treatment = No Risks
It’s important to remember that when a person’s HIV viral load is suppressed, they cannot transmit HIV to others.
FACT: Service members are all provided with healthcare, so those who are HIV positive and take their medications as prescribed achieve a suppressed or undetectable viral load within a couple of months. [DoDI 6485.01 Encl. 3; see also, e.g., AR 600-110, DA Form 5669]
FACT: In accordance with the standard of care for HIV, service members with HIV are treated with a single or dual tablet regimen, which means they need only take one or two pills once a day. The medication does not require special storage and can be dispensed in a 6-month supply.
FACT: According to medical experts, there is no risk of battlefield transmission of HIV, especially if a person’s viral load is suppressed. This includes situations involving contact with blood.
Treatment prevents a person with HIV from becoming sick or disabled by their HIV, and allows them to live long, healthy, and enriched lives.
FACT: A person who is timely diagnosed with HIV and who adheres to their prescribed treatment will have about the same life expectancy as a person not living with HIV. [CDC, About HIV/AIDS, www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/whatishiv.html]
FACT: According to medical experts, a person with HIV who adheres to prescribed treatment will not progress to AIDS and will not become sick with HIV-related illnesses.
FACT: Asymptomatic HIV is not considered a disability by the VA or the military disability evaluation system. It merits a zero percent disability rating. [Veteran Affairs Schedule for Rating Disabilities (VASRD), 38 CFR § 4.88b (code 6351)]
The Case For These Service Members
Both Roe and Voe have the full support of their command to be retained in the Armed Forces, and their doctors say that HIV will not limit their ability to do their jobs.
A person with HIV can hold any job in the world, including physically demanding jobs like police officer and fire fighter involving risk of injury, without posing any danger to their colleagues.
Note: They are also not prohibited from working for military contractors, where they can and do serve alongside US troops across the globe, including in combat zones.
Service members with other medical conditions are allowed to join the military and to deploy to forward positions, even if they have to take daily medicine. [DoDI 6130.01, DoDI 6490.07]
In 2017 and 2018, the Air Force granted waivers allowing over 2,000 people with various disqualifying medical conditions to join the military. [Military.com, 12.12.2018]
Note: But no waivers were granted for person living with HIV.
According to the record in the case, at least six service members with HIV have received orders directing their discharge because of their HIV status.
According to the record in the case, at least one member of the Air Force with HIV has been stationed abroad for over two years while his case has been pending, demonstrating the military can care for Service members with HIV while they are serving abroad.
Conclusion: By discharging Americans who bravely want to defend the freedoms of our nation, the Trump Administration is putting its political, anti-LGBTQ rhetoric ahead of the well-being of our nation and our Service members.
Would you like to help? You can donate to OutServe-SLDN to help in our legal fight for full equality, and ask your friends, family, and network to do so as well, here. You can also contact your elected officials to urge them to denounce this policy change and to reject any amendments to the NDAA that will deny medical coverage to transgender individuals or ban them from serving openly.