Court Asked to Stop Pentagon from Discharging HIV-Positive Service Members

Court Asked to Stop Pentagon from Discharging HIV-Positive Service Members

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Thursday, 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.

The motion for a preliminary injunction filed in Harrison v. Mattis – a case challenging the military’s discriminatory policies governing the enlistment, deployment, and promotion of service members living with HIV – follows multiple calls from other service members that plaintiffs’ attorneys received after his case was filed in May. These service members are being denied significant career advancement opportunities or threatened with discharge due to President Trump’s new “Deploy or Get Out!” policy. Left unaddressed, hundreds of service members who are otherwise fit for duty, including named-plaintiff Sgt. Nick Harrison, will be discharged from the military, suffer irrevocable harm to their careers, and lose critical health care and other benefits.

“This case is not just about me,” Harrison said. “This is about every person living with HIV knowing that they can perform any job in the world, including serving in the military. Together, we must stop the Pentagon from closing its doors to successful and talented service members. I look forward to the day that I can serve my country to the full extent of my abilities, based on my performance and unfettered by unfounded fears and misperceptions about HIV.”

The “Deploy or Get Out!” policy was announced in February 2018. It directs the Pentagon to discharge service members who cannot be deployed to military posts outside of the United States for more than 12 consecutive months. Without regard to their fitness, service members who are diagnosed with HIV while in the military are classified as non-deployable while people living with HIV are not allowed to enlist at all.  The policy does not require the branches of the military to begin processing and discharging members who fall within its parameters until October 2018, but it allows them to start doing so immediately. Since filing this action, several service members living with HIV have been threatened with discharge or have had their service restricted as a result of the new policy. Those who are serving stateside after an HIV diagnosis are being denied promotions, such as the opportunity to commission as an officer, as is the situation for Sgt. Harrison.

“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,” said Scott Schoettes, Counsel and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal. “This must end. If the court doesn’t intervene, the Trump administration will continue to discharge more promising service members living with HIV, denying them the ability to continue serving their country. Every day, people living with HIV are suffering professional setbacks and losing out on career advancement opportunities, and we are asking this court to put an end to these harmful actions.”

OutServe-SLDN is also an organizational plaintiff in this case to advance the interests of its members who are living with HIV and serving in the military.  In a companion lawsuit entitled Doe v. Mattis, Lambda Legal and OutServe-SLDN are representing an anonymous service member living with HIV who the Air Force refused to commission as an officer after he graduated from the Air Force Academy, despite recommendations from medical personnel.

“Since we first filed this case, we have heard from countless service members wanting to share accounts of how the Trump administration’s irresponsible policy is derailing their military careers,” said Peter Perkowski, Legal Director of OutServe-SLDN. “The court cannot stand by while Nick and other service members across the country face imminent harm to their careers, reputations, and livelihood.”

Read a copy of the Motion for Preliminary Injunction here: lambdalegal.org/in-court/legal-docs/harrison_va_20180719_motion-for-preliminary-injunction. Read more about the Harrison v. Mattis and Doe v. Mattis cases here: lambdalegal.org/in-court/cases/harrison-v-mattis.

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