U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz, both D-Hawaii, joined four Senate colleagues Friday in urging the Department of Defense to allow people with human immunodeficiency virus and hepatitis B virus to enlist and serve in the military as long as their conditions are well managed.
“We are pleased to learn that (the U.S. Department of Justice) 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,” the senators wrote in a letter to Pres. Joe Biden. “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.
“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 letter continued. “The current policy banning these individuals from enlisting or joining a commissioning program is outdated and without merit, and does not reflect the military’s commitment to equality, diversity, and the inclusion of all races, ethnicities, religions, and sexual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.”
The senators noted that medical advancements have nearly eliminated the risk of battlefield transmission of either virus and those that are positive for HIV or HBV can manage their condition with daily medication and live long, healthy lives.
Hirono, a member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Personnel, also said lifting restrictions would also help with recruitment and retention of military personnel.
A release issued by Hirono’s office Friday cited recent district court cases that ruled 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“The argument that these viruses make an individual less fit to serve is outdated, harmful, and discriminatory, and places unnecessary barriers on these individuals who wish to serve their country,” the release stated.
In addition to Hirono and Schatz, the letter was signed by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.; Chris Coons D-Del.; Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc.; and Bob Casey, D-Penn. Thirty-four U.S. representatives sent an identical letter to the Biden administration.
Michael Tsai covers local and state politics for Spectrum News Hawaii.