WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-HI), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined five of her Senate colleagues in urging the Department of Defense (DOD) to permit individuals living with well-managed human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis B virus (HBV) to enlist and serve in the military. Given the advancements in medicine for both HIV and HBV, the risk of battlefield transmission is near zero and people living with HIV and HBV can manage their condition with as little as one pill a day and are able to lead very long and healthy lives. Allowing individuals with HIV and HBV to enlist would help the military meet its troop recruitment and retention goals, which Senator Hirono is focused on as a member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel.
“We are pleased to learn that DOJ will no longer defend the constitutionality of regulations barring the deployment and commissioning of service members with HIV who are currently serving in the U.S. military. We now ask that the Biden administration follows this conclusion and allows individuals living with HIV to enlist, to seek appointment, and to otherwise join the U.S. military,” said the senators. “For far too long, people living with HIV and HBV have faced harmful and discriminatory policies in our armed forces that create unnecessary barriers to serve. The current policy banning these individuals from enlisting or joining a commissioning program is outdated and without merit, and does not reflect the military’s commitment to equality, diversity, and the inclusion of all races, ethnicities, religions, and sexual orientations in service. Anyone who is qualified and has a desire to serve their country should be allowed to do so, and we remain optimistic the administration will heed this important call.”
Just recently, multiple district court cases affirmed this notion by stating that the categorical bars to the deployment and commissioning of service members with HIV violate the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution. The argument that these viruses make an individual less fit to serve is outdated, harmful, and discriminatory, and places unnecessary barriers on these individuals who wish to serve their country.
The letter, led by Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Chris Coons (D-DE), was also joined by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Bob Casey (D-PA). U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05), Vice-Chair of the Congressional LGBTQ+ Equality Caucus, Representative Sara Jacobs (CA-53), and Representative Barbara Lee (CA-13) led 31 of their House colleagues in sending an identical letter to the Biden administration.
The full text of the letter is available here.
As a member of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, Senator Hirono is working to make sure the military can meet its recruitment and retention goals, and that those who want to serve can do so. In July, she urged DOD to consider providing family planning options, including cryopreservation for servicemembers, citing family planning challenges as one of the top reasons individuals—particularly women—choose not to join, or leave the military. Similarly, in June, she led a group of her Senate colleagues in calling on DOD to protect abortion access for servicemembers.