An HIV-positive veteran is challenging
the Department of Defense's policy barring HIV+ people from
enlisting, deploying or commissioning as an officer.
In a lawsuit filed Wednesday, Nick
Harrison, a sergeant in the D.C. Army National Guard and a veteran of
two overseas combat zones, claims he was denied a position in the
Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps because of the current policy.
“After serving in Afghanistan and
Kuwait, I knew I wanted to become an officer in the U.S. Army and a
leader for all of the great men and women in our armed forces,”
Harrison said in a statement. “I spent years acquiring the training
and skills to serve my country as a lawyer. This should be a
no-brainer. 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. It was an honor to be chosen to join the JAG
Corps for the DC National Guard, and I look forward to my first day
on the job.”
The lawsuit was filed in the U.S.
District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Harrison is
represented by Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN.
“Nick’s situation is the perfect
example of just how archaic and harmful the military policies
regarding people living with HIV really are,” said Scott Schoettes,
HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal. “These oppressive
restrictions are based on antiquated science that reinforces stigma
and denies perfectly qualified service members the full ability to
serve their country."
"The Pentagon needs to catch up
with the 21st Century. Recruitment, retention, deployment and
commissioning should be based on a candidate’s qualifications to
serve, not unfounded fears about HIV. The U.S. Department of Defense
is one of the largest employers in the world, and like other
employers, is not allowed to discriminate against people living with
HIV for no good reason,” Schoettes added.
Doctor Carlos del Rio, co-director of
the Emory Center for AIDS Research, said that HIV can be managed with
treatment and should not be considered a barrier to serve in the
“Living with HIV today is much
different than it was 25 years ago,” he said. “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.”
Lambda Legal pointed out that the
policy labels people living with HIV as non-deployable, which means
they could face immediate discharge under the Trump administration's
recently announced “Deploy or Get Out” policy, which directs the
Pentagon to discharge service members who cannot be deployed to
military posts outside the United States for more than 12 consecutive