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US soldier launches legal bid against Trump directive firing HIV-positive service members

July 20, 2018

(Image: Lamda Legal)

A US soldier has launched a legal challenge to a Trump military directive which would fire HIV-positive servicemen and women.

The ‘Deploy or Get Out’ policy, intended to improve readiness, directs the Pentagon to discharge soldiers who can’t be deployed abroad for 12 months, for any reason.

The directive, which comes into force on October 1, combined with an earlier directive which bars HIV-positive service members to be deployed abroad would effectively prevent HIV-positive people serving the military.

The suit was filed in May by 41-year-old Nicholas Harrison, who has previously been deployed to Afghanistan and Kuwait. He was diagnosed with HIV in 2012, after returning from Kuwait.

US troops
(Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The soldier’s lawyer, Scott Schoettes, told Bloomberg News: “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.”

The soldier’s legal challenge is asking a federal court to ban the Trump administration from firing HIV-positive members of the military.

The suit argues: “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 soldier goes on to argue that medical developments would allow HIV-positive service members to be posted overseas without any issues.

With effective treatment, HIV-positive people can suppress their viral load to undetectable levels, meaning that they cannot pass on the disease.

GREAT FALLS, MT - JULY 05: U.S. president Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Four Seasons Arena on July 5, 2018 in Great Falls, Montana. President Trump held a campaign style 'Make America Great Again' rally in Great Falls, Montana with thousands in attendance. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Trump has repeatedly targeted LGBT people with his legislative decisions (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Harrison is joined in the case by OutServe-SLDN, which is an LGBT network for military personnel.

“Nick has every quality Americans want in a member of our armed services: dedication, intelligence, and a burning desire to serve his country,” Peter Perkowski, Legal Director of OutServe-SLDN told the law firm handling the case.

“The military has spent thousands of dollars training Nick to be a soldier, a lawyer, and a leader – now they are turning their backs on him.

“It is time for the DoD to come out of the dark ages, update its HIV policies and revise its thinking on the deploy or get out mentality.”

Jim Mattis, the current Secretary of Defence (Photo by Keith Lane/Getty Images)

The challenge comes after Donald Trump announced moves to ban transgender people from serving in the military.

In a statement in March, the President said: “Transgender persons with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria… are disqualified from military service except under certain limited circumstances.”

The move sparked outrage among LGBT groups and has been challenged in the courts. In the most recent ruling on the issue, an appeals court on Wednesday ruled against the Trump administration, and upheld a court order stalling the anti-trans ban.

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