It was announced earlier this week that the U.S. Department of Defense has officially updated its policy around military service persons and HIV. These updates come in light of “significant advances in the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment” of HIV since the original policy was put into place.
The official memo from Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin’s office went on to state that “individuals who have been identified as HIV-positive, are asymptomatic, and who have a clinically confirmed undetectable viral load (hereinafter, ‘covered personnel’) will have no restrictions applied to their deployability or to their ability to commission while a service member solely on the basis of their HIV-positive status. Nor will such individuals be discharged or separated solely on the basis of their HIV-positive status.”
The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights organization, praised the Department of Defense’s decision to abandon the outdated policy from the 1980s that called for service members to be discharged, deployed, or prevented from advancing because they were HIV-positive, even if they had an undetectable viral load. The policy update follows an April ruling by a federal judge which struck down the former policy as a result of two separate lawsuits brought by Lambda Legal on behalf of three service members.
“The Department of Defense and Secretary Austin deserve credit for making the right choice — service members with HIV should be able to remain in the military and enjoy every opportunity for deployment or advancement as any other service member,” said HRC’s government affairs director David Stacy.
“Research has shown for years now that antiretroviral therapy is highly effective in shrinking the risk of HIV transmission to essentially zero,” added Stacy. “To maintain a discriminatory policy against service members living with HIV without the backing of medical evidence was unsustainable, and we’re glad to see our military leaders recognize that. And we’ll 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’s still work to be done.”