Two servicemen filed a lawsuit against Defense Secretary Jim Mattis after they were kicked out of the military following HIV diagnoses.
LGBTQ advocacy groups Lambda Legal and OutServe-Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN), in conjunction with Winston & Strawn law firm, filed the lawsuit on behalf of two former members of the Air Force on Tuesday, according to a press release. The plaintiffs, known as Richard Roe and Victor Voe, chose to remain anonymous to avoid being stigmatized due to their HIV diagnosis.
Voe and Roe found out they were HIV-positive last year during Air Force screenings. They were informed of their removal shortly before Thanksgiving. The discharges are part of Mattis’ goal to remove service members who are unable to be deployed for 12 consecutive months, reports The Washington Post. The policy nicknamed “deploy or get out,” only excludes pregnant and postpartum women. Soldiers wounded in combat also receive special consideration. Additionally, people with pre-existing HIV diagnoses are banned from joining the military.
“You’re either deployable, or you need to find something else to do. I’m not going to have some people deploying constantly and then other people, who seem to not pay that price, in the U.S. military,” Mattis said in February. “If you can’t go overseas [and] carry a combat load, then obviously someone else has got to go. I want this spread fairly and expertly across the force.”
Both airmen argue they are fit to be deployed and sought opinions from doctors who gave them a clean bill of health as long as they have access to their medication. Voe and Roe claim their discharge appeals were ignored, and they were willing to take other jobs in the service but never received offers. Eventually, they were found “unfit for continued military service.” The plaintiffs also believe they were mistreated because other HIV-positive service members have been able to keep their positions.
One of the men did two tours in the Middle East, and his position kept him at a base where medical attention was readily available.
“It’s disheartening to say the least,” he told The Post. “I know for a fact that I am very good. I know I’m good at what I do, and I’m not being afforded the opportunity to give the Air Force what I know I’m capable of doing.”
Lambda Legal attorney Scott Schoettes hopes the suit will help destigmatize HIV.
“What we’re really asking for here is that HIV be treated the same as any other medical condition in terms of evaluating whether or not you can deploy with it,” Schoettes said. “It shouldn’t be carved out and specifically categorized as ‘you are non-deployable once you have this.’”
An Air Force spokeswoman denied the organization discriminates against HIV-positive airmen.
“The Air Force does not find all airmen with asymptomatic HIV unfit and has returned more than 150 such Airmen to duty,” she said.
Blavitize your inbox! Join our daily newsletter for fresh stories and breaking news.
Now, check these out: