Vermont student sues National Guard, Department of Defense
BOSTON (AP) — A military college student who says he was fired for testing positive for HIV is suing federal and state military officials.
The 20-year-old student from Revere, Massachusetts, said in a lawsuit filed Thursday that he tested positive for HIV in October 2020 during his sophomore year at the country’s oldest private military college, Norwich University. in Northfield, Vermont.
The student, who is only identified in the lawsuit as “John Doe,” said in the complaint filed in federal court in Burlington, Vermont, that he was deemed unfit for service and discharged of the Reserve Officers Training Corps and the Vermont Army National. Guard though he is healthy, asymptomatic and on medication that renders his viral load undetectable.
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The US Department of Defense and the Vermont National Guard, which are among those named in the lawsuit, did not respond to emails seeking comment on Thursday.
Lawyers for Civil Rights, a Boston-based group that filed the suit on the student’s behalf, declined to provide copies of the student’s separation notice and other discharge documents, saying they are not redacted and will be submitted under seal to the court.
But the lawsuit details the circumstances surrounding the dismissals, including that the student was told he could not get a scholarship or contract through the ROTC program because of his HIV status and that he was no longer allowed to continue his monthly studies. training periods with the State National Guard.
Under Department of Defense regulations, HIV is one of a long list of medical conditions that automatically disqualify a person from enlisting, being appointed as a commissioned officer, and registering as an ROTC Fellow Cadet. .
Lawyers for the student say the military’s HIV policies date back to the 1980s, when little was known about the disease which, if left untreated, can lead to AIDS.
“A generation after they were developed, the Army’s policies are highly anachronistic and do not reflect current medical reality,” Lawyers for Civil Rights claims in the lawsuit. “Advances in medical treatment and prevention have transformed HIV from a progressive, terminal disease into a manageable condition.”
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A federal judge in Virginia ruled last month that service members who are HIV-positive cannot be released or barred from becoming an officer solely because they are infected with the virus.
Sophia Hall, deputy director of litigation at Lawyers for Civil Rights, said the student’s case was unrelated because Virginia’s ruling only applied to those already serving in the military.
The student, in a statement provided by his attorneys, said he hoped to restore his military status to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather and uncles who served in the armed forces. The lawsuit also asks the court to strike down the military regulations and policies that led to his dismissal from the National Guard and ROTC.