Unable to join Vermont National Guard due to HIV, Norwich University student sues to change military policy

Unable to join Vermont National Guard due to HIV, Norwich University student sues to change military policy

Norwich University in Northfield in October 2019. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

HIV-positive people cannot enlist in the US military. A lawsuit filed by a Norwich University student seeks to change that.

The student, an anonymous 20-year-old man from Massachusetts, was barred from participating in Vermont National Guard and other military activities at the military academy in Northfield after he tested positive for HIV.

Now, he’s suing Vermont’s Guard and US military officials, arguing that they’re violating the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause by preventing him from enlisting.

The suit, filed on Thursday, alleges that the military’s HIV policies are an outdated product of the 1980s, “when little was known about HIV and no medical treatment existed.”

Citing the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the lawsuit stresses that modern medicine allows HIV-positive individuals to live long and healthy lives. The plaintiff’s overall health was not considered when he was barred from military services, the suit alleviated.

Sophia Hall, an attorney at Lawyers for Civil Rights in Boston, who represents the plaintiff, said she believes the case could change nationwide policy.

“Given the state of medical science, it is clear that laws and policies that bar HIV-positive individuals from full participation are antiquated and discriminatory,” she said. “Our litigation opens a new frontier for the dreamers, those who have aspirations of a military career that they thought was lost because of these discriminatory policies.”

“I am filing this lawsuit to prevent the military from arbitrarily discriminating against people living with HIV,” the anonymous plaintiff said in a press release.

Last month, a judge found that the Air Force could not discharge a service member or prevent them from becoming an officer due to their HIV status.

In the Norwich suit, the plaintiff’s lawyers have requested that the Vermont National Guard allow him to enlist.

Norwich University and the Vermont National Guard did not respond to email requests for comment on Friday.

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