Federal court upholds block keeping Air Force from discharging HIV-positive service members

Federal court upholds block keeping Air Force from discharging HIV-positive service members
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A federal appeals court Friday upheld a lower court’s injunction blocking the Air Force from discharging two HIV-positive airmen.

"A ban on deployment may have been justified at a time when HIV treatment was less effective at managing the virus and reducing transmission risks," the three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals wrote in its ruling. 

"But any understanding of HIV that could justify this ban is outmoded and at odds with current science," it added. "Such obsolete understandings cannot justify a ban, even under a deferential standard of review and even according appropriate deference to the military's professional judgments." 

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A lower court first filed a motion in February blocking the discharge of the two airmen from the military. 

"I am extremely relieved to learn that I can continue to serve this country like any other service member," one of the two airmen said in a statement to CNN under the pseudonym "Victor Voe."

"Serving in the U.S. military has been the greatest honor of my life and I'm thrilled to see this court affirm the lower court ruling in our favor," he added. "No one should be discharged or discriminated against because of HIV when it does not interfere whatsoever with our capacity to serve." 

The lawsuit was first filed by the two airmen in December 2018, accusing the Pentagon of discriminating against service members under a longstanding policy that stipulates that they cannot deploy outside of the country if they test positive for HIV. 

The Trump administration put forth the new rule in February 2018 that states that those who cannot be deployed outside of the U.S. for a continuous year should be discharged.

The two airmen said they were at risk of being discharged despite recommendations from their superiors and physicians. They also said they were adhering to treatment plans and were asymptomatic. 

Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek pushed back against two airmen’s claims, telling CNN that "the Air Force does not find all airmen with asymptomatic HIV unfit" and that ill Air Force members' "fitness determination is conducted on a case by case basis."