A federal judge on April 6 reversed longstanding policies that previously blocked HIV-positive military service members from becoming officers and deploying in active duty outside of the United States, in what proponents are calling a "groundbreaking ruling."
The policy was put in place by the Department of Defense and prevented service members living with HIV—human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS—from commissioning as officers and being deployed overseas, thus limiting their opportunity for career advancement.
However, District Judge Leonie Brinkema of the Eastern District of Virginia ruled in favor of three service members in two separate cases, which were first brought in 2018 by the LGBTQ civil rights group Lambda Legal on behalf of the service members.
The individual plaintiffs are service members living with HIV.
One of them, Sgt. Nick Harrison, is a member of the District of Columbia National Guard, who has served in the military since 2000 and was diagnosed with HIV after his second tour of duty in the Middle East in 2012.
Harrison claimed that he was denied the opportunity to serve as an officer and therefore could not take on a position in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, for which he had been preselected, due to the fact that he is living with HIV.
The ruling concerns service members who are diagnosed after they enter the military and whose viral loads are undetectable thanks to antiretroviral treatment.
It is not yet known if the Justice Department will appeal the ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Prior to the lawsuits, the Department of Defense was the only entity in the United States that still had in place such a policy, which attorneys said "legally permitted to discriminate against people living with HIV despite the existence of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act."
Attorneys for the plaintiffs called Wednesday's decision a "groundbreaking ruling."
"I guess that everyone else in the same position in the military is. We've been waiting on this for a long time," he said, adding that "in the past few years, everything was sort of on hold."
The Epoch Times has contacted the Defense Department for comment.