The updated Pentagon policy bars the US military from segregating HIV-positive service members with an undetectable viral load and also allows them to be deployed, according to a new Defense Department memo released Tuesday.
The guidance, released Monday, reverses previous DOD policy, which has been in place since the 1980s, after HIV first spread in the United States, according to the officer.
“In light of significant advances in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), there is a need to update DoD policy regarding individuals identified as HIV positive,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin wrote in the memo.
According to updated Pentagon guidelines, “Individuals identified as HIV-positive, asymptomatic and with a clinically confirmed undetectable viral load will not have restrictions on their eligibility for service or their ability to be assigned as a service member solely on the basis of their HIV-positive status Status,” adds Austin.
“Nor will such people be released or separated solely because of their HIV-positive status.”
Approximately 2,000 HIV-positive military personnel currently serve in the US military.
Until recently, these troops, sailors and airmen lived in fear of being fired or disqualified from officer ranks simply for having the virus.
But in April, a federal judge in Virginia ruled that the HIV status of such individuals cannot just result in their being separated or prevented from being hired.
This case was brought by two airmen the service was trying to fire, and by a DC Army National Guard corporal who was prevented from becoming a judge’s attorney.
However, the new policy does not allow those with an existing HIV-positive status to join the military. The only exception, which will be considered on a case-by-case basis, is if an individual who is already in uniform or is a military service academy cadet or midshipman is diagnosed with the virus while they are already in the military or in a enlistment program, respectively .
Should a service member or individual in a service academy test positive for HIV, they will be “referred for appropriate treatment and medical evaluation.” If their viral load is found to be manageable and they are symptom-free for a period of time, they may remain on duty.
Austin also led a working group to create standards for case-by-case determinations, including the length of time a person must remain unidentified to keep their uniform.
According to the memo, the guidelines should be available to the Pentagon chief in six months.
In addition, service secretaries are required to report every six months the number of HIV-positive troops they have detached and the number of undetectable HIV-positive troops who have been denied enlistment.