US soldier launches legal challenge against military policy that would force out HIV-positive soldiers

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The new policy seeks to expel people from the military who have been “non-deployable” for 12 months.

A US solider has launched a legal challenge against a military policy that would see all soldiers with HIV expelled from the force. The new policy, which comes into effect from October would force people who have been “non-deployable” for 12 months out of the military.

Currently, people with HIV are automatically considered to be non-deployable. The policy is said to have been introduced to improve readiness in the forces.

But now, Nicholas Harrison, a solider who was diagnosed with HIV in 2012, is launching a legal challenge against the policy. Speaking to Bloomberg, his lawyer, Scott Schoettes said: “Soldiers, sailors, fighter pilots and marines are seeing their promising careers cut short, their dreams of service shattered and their health jeopardized due to antiquated notions about HIV and the stigma that results.”

Harrison later said: “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.”

The suit itself states: “People living with HIV have served in this nation’s armed services with distinction for decades.

“For much of that time, their service has been unjustifiably restricted based on misconceptions regarding the consequences of an HIV diagnosis.”

The suit then goes on to point out that recent medical developments have significantly reduced the risk of spreading the disease, and highlights data from the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention that showed that someone living with HIV “could suppress their viral load to undetectable levels, which results in effectively no risk of transmitting the disease.”

Carlos del Rio, a professor of global health and medicine at the Emory University and Co-Director of the Emory Center for AIDS Research argued against the new policy, saying: “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.”

The lawsuit was filed by Lambda Legal and Outserve-SLDN, both of which have worked in the past to get the Trump administration’s ban on transgender personnel serving in the military overturned. At the same time, they are also filing a lawsuit for an Air Force Officer only known as Nick, who claims that he was overlooked for a promotion in the armed forces because of his HIV diagnosis.

On this case, Schoettes said: “Nick’s situation is the perfect example of just how archaic and harmful the military policies regarding people living with HIV really are.”

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