Hepatitis B and the US Military

militaryCurrently, the Department of Defense (DOD) has policies that can negatively impact military personnel and military students. DOD policies, which do not reflect evidence-based science or current CDC recommendations, can result in inconsistent personnel decisions for service members with hepatitis B, which impede career advancement and make personnel vulnerable to medical evaluation boards and discharge. In addition, DOD policy does not permit enlistees or applicants with hepatitis B to serve in the U.S. Uniformed Services or participate in DOD educational or scholarship programs.

 

What we are doing:

Since 2013, the Hepatitis B Foundation, along with dedicated civil rights advocates, have called for the DOD to update their hepatitis B policies and personnel management instructions to reflect the most current guidelines for hepatitis B management and treatment. Our stance is that having hepatitis B does not impact the ability of military students and personnel to serve, and that military personnel with hepatitis B do not pose a risk to others. This is based upon current scientific evidence and guidelines:

  • Hepatitis B is a vaccine-preventable disease, and hepatitis B vaccination has been mandated since 2002 for all incoming DOD personnel;
  • There is antiviral treatment available, in the form of one pill a day, to manage active hepatitis B infection for those who need it;
  • There are simple blood tests available, and clear guidelines set by CDC, to periodically measure an infected individual’s viral activity, that would permit safe contact between service personnel comparable to a healthcare worker performing CDC-defined invasive, exposure-prone medical procedures.

In 2018, the DOD announced a new “Deploy or Discharge” policy, to discharge personnel who are considered non-deployable for more than twelve months – this can include personnel diagnosed with hepatitis B. This policy puts the careers of hundreds of service members with hepatitis B at risk for discharge. Advocates are asking for Congress to pass legislation or include in an appropriate bill a provision requiring DOD to adopt comprehensive, updated, evidence-based hepatitis B policies, instructions and service regulations for applicants, incoming and existing personnel that are consistent with recommendations published by the CDC. Advocates also seek action by Congress to forestall and halt medical or physical evaluation boards and mandatory discharge of military personnel with hepatitis B, pending DOD action to -address deficient HBV policies and guidelines for identification, surveillance, and administration of personnel Infected with hepatitits B. 

What do if you are facing discrimination:

If you or someone you know has faced hepatitis B-related discrimination in the military, and to learn more about how you can join us and take action, please contact the Hepatitis B Foundation at info@hepb.org or 215-489-4900.