DoD changes rule regarding HIV positive military personnel

The Department of Justice has recently made policy changes that better support military members who are also HIV positive, prompted by a handful of lawsuits. A few pieces on the topic come from Advocate and Time Magazine.
In the April 2024 issue of Advocate, Ryan Adamczeski wrote about how two military service members fought back against laws that oppress people who are HIV positive. Adamczeski states in their article, “Former Navy midshipman Kevin Deese and former Air Force cadet John Doe (a pseudonym) filed the lawsuit against the Department of Defense in 2018 when they were denied commissions after graduating from their respective service academies simply because they are living with HIV.” Adamczeski confirms that the two won the lawsuit.

In yet an earlier article published in Time Magazine in 2022, the story of Isaiah Wilkins is told, and how his service in the Army was cut short due to an HIV diagnosis. The article then goes on to state how being discharged motivated Wilkins to fight the Department of Justice’s policies on HIV positive soldiers.

The Time article states, “He learned that while on treatment, his HIV would not progress and wouldn’t be transmittable to anyone else either. He had also proudly served his country for two years already in the National Guard, and was on track to attend West Point.” Wilkins had every valuable quality to be a good soldier in the military, and made a solid point that with modern treatments, his HIV could be undetected.

There is the argument that anything can disqualify one from being in the military, such as being too tall, too short, or having any disease. The problem with the two cases mentioned here is that all soldiers’ HIV symptoms were unknown and that diagnosis did not affect their performances. The reason behind disqualifying people from military service because of health issues is if the diagnosis has the potential to affect their ability to do their jobs. As stated in the Advocate article, the two men had already qualified and graduated in their respective branches. In Wilkins’ case, he was healthy, highly qualified, and could remain healthy with treatments. The men in these cases were capable of doing their jobs and achieving specific goals their branches had set for them.

On the Department of Defense’s website, it states that, “Under the Department’s updated policies, individuals who have been identified as HIV-positive, are asymptomatic, and who have a clinically confirmed undetectable viral load will have no restrictions applied to their deployability or to their ability to commission while a Service member solely on the basis of their HIV-positive status. Nor will such individuals be discharged or separated solely on the basis of their HIV-positive status”

As demonstrated in these two separate cases across a number of years, the DoD is taking positive steps to have a more inclusive policy for HIV positive people. However, prompting such change requires that people are willing to stand up and take action when situations are unjust. Changing rules that allow for more people to serve gives hope that the military is an organization that is open to more good people who are willing to serve
their country.


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