Sergeant Sues Defense Dept. More than ‘Outdated’ H.I.V. Policies
Army Sgt. Nick Harrison learned he was infected with H.I.V. six years ago, but the when fatal diagnosis has barely changed his routine at function or at home since he keeps the virus in verify with a after-a-day pill. The only factor H.I.V. crippled was his military profession.
The military bars any person with the virus that causes AIDS from joining. Policies crafted in the 1980s allow troops who contract the disease whilst in the military to stay as long as they remain otherwise healthier, but bars them from deploying in practically all circumstances.
The query of how to treat wholesome troops with H.I.V. was hardly an issue a few decades ago, when couple of with the infection lived long. Now that they can lead long and wholesome lives, nonetheless, the restrictions meant to handle a deadly epidemic have stifled careers. A lot of have been shut out from coveted specialties or denied promotions. And under a new policy that calls for troops to be readily deployable or be discharged, almost 1,823 otherwise healthy troops with H.I.V. may be forced to leave the military.
Now Sergeant Harrison, who served 18 years in the Army and National Guard and deployed to Afghanistan and Kuwait, is suing the Defense Department, arguing that the H.I.V. policies are outdated and discriminatory and have cost him a promotion to captain.
&ldquoIn the Army we are taught that we are all a single group, and as extended as you can fulfill the mission, any variations don&rsquot matter,&rdquo Sergeant Harrison mentioned in an interview. &ldquoThese policies look to fundamentally oppose that core philosophy.&rdquo
In a complaint filed in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia this week, lawyers from the public interest groups Lambda Legal and Outserve-SLDN, who represent the sergeant, say that the blanket policies discriminate against individuals with H.I.V. and violate the constitutional appropriate to equal protection.
Military guidelines, the complaint argues, have not kept pace with tremendous progress in H.I.V. treatment, which includes a broadly offered oral medication that can maintain virus levels so low that individuals can reside with no symptoms and almost no threat of passing on the disease to other individuals.
&ldquoIt&rsquos outdated policy primarily based on unfounded fears that doesn&rsquot recognize all the advances we&rsquove produced,&rdquo stated Scott A. Schoettes, one particular of the lawyers representing the sergeant.
The Defense Division declined to comment on the lawsuit, but in a statement stated its policies on H.I.V. are &ldquoevidence-based, medically precise, and are reviewed often and updated as practices, recommendations, and requirements of care evolve.&rdquo
The military has extended disqualified recruits for a broad variety of health-related situations that could impact performance, including negative knees, heel spurs, diabetes and even peanut allergies. But it also frequently grants waivers for individuals who can show their condition will not impact their duties or pose a hazard to other troops.
H.I.V. was added to the list of disqualifying circumstances in 1985 as the military scrambled to manage the spread of the illness in the course of the peak of the AIDS crisis. That year, the military began frequently testing all troops. These who tested constructive have been sidelined. Pilots have been grounded. Leaders have been pulled out of command positions. On one Army post in Texas, H.I.V.-positive troops have been quarantined in barracks that soldiers rapidly began calling &ldquothe leper colony.&rdquo
&ldquoAnyone who tested optimistic stayed in the military, and we treated them. It was observed as the compassionate factor to do,&rdquo stated Dr. Craig Hendrix, an infectious illness specialist at Johns Hopkins University who ran the Air Force&rsquos H.I.V. monitoring system for most of the 1990s. &ldquoBut the expectation was that they would quickly turn out to be as well sick to perform their duties and be medically discharged. No 1 was expected to final lengthy. At the time the best drugs would only buy a year or two.&rdquo
Dr. Hendrix, who has been out of the military for almost 20 years, was surprised to hear that policy has changed little.
&ldquoIt&rsquos one of many, a lot of conditions completely compatible with being on active duty,&rdquo he mentioned. &ldquoI suspect there are a quantity of individuals in the military taking a pill every day for blood stress or cholesterol. This is hardly various.&rdquo
Advances in antiretroviral drugs have resolved most of the health-related hurdles in treating H.I.V., if not the stigma, according to Marguerita Lightfoot, director of the Center for AIDS Prevention Research at the University of California, San Francisco.
&ldquoIn the early days treatment was a number of pills, a number of times a day,&rdquo she mentioned. &ldquoOften they had to be refrigerated. Some were toxic, they created people sick. So possibly at a single time the Army&rsquos policy created sense.
&ldquoBut now it&rsquos so straightforward. And if effectively treated, the virus is no longer a danger to the patient or other people.&rdquo
In September, she noted, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that patients following a correct therapy strategy, who have an undetectable level of virus in blood tests, pose &ldquoeffectively no threat&rdquo of transmitting the virus to other individuals.
&ldquoI work with physicians and nurses who are H.I.V. good and there is no risk to individuals. I don&rsquot see why it would be diverse in the Army,&rdquo Dr. Lightfoot mentioned.
Today, policies differ inside the military. The Navy allows sailors with H.I.V. to serve on some massive ships and overseas bases. The Army does not.
Sergeant Harrison, 41, who now performs as a civilian lawyer in the Washington area, grew up in a small town in Oklahoma and enlisted in 2000 as an airborne infantry soldier. Right after a stint stationed in Alaska, he moved to the National Guard and utilised his military benefits to attend college, then law college. His schooling was interrupted by deployments to Afghanistan and Kuwait, exactly where he earned medals for good conduct.
In 2012, with a law degree from the University of Oklahoma, he passed the Oklahoma bar exam. The National Guard then provided him a job as an Army lawyer in the Judge Advocate Common&rsquos Corps.
Around the same time, Sergeant Harrison discovered that he had contracted H.I.V. through a sexual partner.
The sergeant was cleared medically to become an officer, and his leaders authorized. But due to the fact the job would need him to leave his enlisted position and re-enter the Army as an officer, the policy barring new recruits with H.I.V. prohibited the move.
&ldquoIt tends to make no sense to me that they say I&rsquom healthy adequate to be an infantryman, but not a lawyer,&rdquo he said.
Sergeant Harrison applied for a healthcare waiver in 2014, but was denied. He appealed to the Army&rsquos head of personnel in 2015, then to the workplace of the secretary of defense in 2016. Both refused to give him an exception.
The lawsuit filed this week seeks to give the sergeant his commission as a captain and strike down present H.I.V. policies affecting recruiting and deployment across the military.
&ldquoLogistically, there is no dilemma. All my healthcare exams show I&rsquom in best physical shape. I&rsquove had full help from my units. My commanders signed off on the promotion,&rdquo Sergeant Harrison mentioned. &ldquoBut up at the upper levels, the Pentagon, I get the feeling factors are a small outdated.&rdquo
Published at Thu, 31 May possibly 2018 22:20:13 +0000