First off, I am an active duty Army Infectious Disease provider and a large portion of my time goes towards care of HIV-positive soldiers. I wanted to start by saying I generally enjoy your Positively Aware journal but wanted to clarify something in the July + August issue.
On page 11, it states “Under the ‘Deploy or Get Out’ policy instituted by the Trump administration, people living with HIV are not allowed to enlist nor be appointed as officers.” Technically this has been the policy for years and goes back to Army Regulation (AR) 600-110, which states that people living with HIV are not allowed to join the military, and this was last updated in 2014. I will add a caveat that the new policy does say if you are non-deployable, then the goal is to administratively separate you from the military, but most providers taking care of these individuals, myself included, have advised our commands of the error of this policy and it is currently under review.
Also, I should mention that part of the reason for this policy is that all soldiers are supposed to be considered blood donors due to the potential need for a “walking blood bank” during deployment to austere and remote environments and it is because of this that patients with blood-borne diseases are generally considered non-deployable.
Again, I enjoy your journal, but just wanted to make sure that statement was clarified as in this day and age, it seems that it will be easily construed that this was a Trump administration policy, which is technically inaccurate.
Thank you for your time and hope you have a great day! Keep up the great work!
Major, U.S. Army Physician
Editor Jeff Berry responds: Thank you, Dr. Farmer, for the clarifications, and for your dedication. We asked Scott Schoettes, Counsel and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal, to respond regarding the military’s policies:
“That is but one of the justifications for this discriminatory policy—one that is easily knocked down. While it would be ideal if all soldiers could donate blood, there are various reasons a soldier could not do so (including if they are a man who has had sex with another man in the past 12 months). The very small percentage of deployed soldiers who are HIV-positive will not have any noticeable effect on the blood supply at the front lines. We think it is likely the military will offer this as a justification for refusing to deploy people living with HIV, but like other policies that have gone by the wayside (women in the military; ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’ etc.), it is time for this one to be re-examined and reformed. That which HIV-positive soldiers have to offer is far greater than any minor limitations that may affect their deployment in insignificant ways, such as the inability to donate blood. We look forward to proving in court that people living with HIV are as capable of serving as anyone else.”
On July 19 Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN, along with pro bono counsel from Winston & Strawn LLP, asked a federal court to halt implementation of a new Department of Defense policy resulting in the discharge of service members living with HIV. Find out more at lambdalegal.org.