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Navy opens more assignments to HIV-positive sailors, Marines

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan —The Navy says it has begun assigning HIV-positive sailors and Marines to overseas and large-ship-platform assignments.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus issued the policy regarding blood-borne pathogens such as the human immunodeficiency virus and hepatitis B and C in August 2012. It took a year for the Navy’s Personnel Command to complete a review of the instruction and issue implementation guidance.

Until then, positive sailors and Marines were barred from overseas and at-sea duty, leaving them few career options and limited opportunities for advancement. However, advances in medicine now allow someone who contracts HIV to live 20 to 30 years without adverse health effects, taking as few as one pill per day. This has made treating HIV possible in environments outside the continental United States.

“Navy Personnel Command is following the direction of the Secretary, and has begun assigning sailors with blood-borne pathogens to operational [outside the continental United States] platforms,” Navy Personnel Command spokesman Mike McLellan wrote in an email to Stars and Stripes. “At this point less than 0.1 percent of Navy’s population fall into these categories.”

McLellan did not respond to a request for the number assigned so far or the number who have requested assignment but have yet to be placed.

Mabus’ instruction means sailors and Marines are no longer bound to stateside medical facilities and rules that dictate the frequency of clinical evaluations. They may now deploy overseas and stand watch at sea as long as they are needed, medical risks can be mitigated and the command in question can support care.

Medical personnel, detailers and receiving commanders were given a veto power for each request, according to the instruction.

The policy only affects HIV-positive sailors and Marines who are stable and have minimal medical complications. Prospective recruits are still precluded from joining the services if they have the virus, which causes AIDS.

“In the case of HIV-positive servicemembers, these personnel and the services have put a lot of time and effort into their careers, and there is no medical reason for them not to be able to continue serving with pride,” Bureau of Medicine and Surgery spokeswoman Shoshona Pilip-Florea said in December.

The Navy policy is unique, officials have said. The Army prohibits HIV-positive soldiers from being deployed or assigned overseas. The Air Force is also restrictive, but active-duty airmen can apply for waivers if the receiving units can provide the needed care. A waiver is also required to remain on flying status.

burke.matt@stripes.com

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