Two service members with HIV are suing the Trump administration, arguing that they are being discharged because of their HIV status in an “unconstitutional and improper” fashion.
The lawsuit claims the Pentagon is discriminating against service members with HIV because of a long-standing Department of Defense rule that says they can’t deploy outside the US without a waiver. The Trump administration introduced a new rule in February that said any service member who can’t be deployed outside the United States for more than one continuous year should be separated from service.
Proponents of the policy said it reduced the burden on deployable service members, who were deploying at higher rates due to the need to cover for those service personnel who are not deployable.
“This directive arguably would have applied to almost all Service members living with HIV,” the lawsuit says.
The two service members, named in the suit as “Richard Roe” and “Victor Voe,” argue that they “are being discharged despite the contrary recommendations of their commanding officers and physicians solely because they have tested positive” for HIV – despite adhering to treatment plans and not showing symptoms.
Air Force spokesperson Ann Stefanek pushed back on the allegations.
“The Air Force does not find all Airmen with asymptomatic HIV unfit, and has returned more than 150 such Airmen to duty,” she said in a statement.
“Any Airman with a chronic or progressive illness is referred to the Disability Evaluation System for medical evaluation of fitness for continued service,” Stefanek added. “Each fitness determination is conducted on a case by case basis.”
The lawsuit is another data point in the uneasy relationship between the LGBTQ community and the Pentagon under the Trump administration. The administration has come under fire for its general stances on LGBTQ issues, including its military transgender ban – which the courts have so far blocked from taking effect – and the way it distanced itself from the Defense Department’s annual LGBT Pride Month.
CNN’s Ryan Browne contributed to this report.