Weinberger Completes AIDS Testing Directive
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Military officials say they are debating whether the Pentagon’s new policy of blood screening for AIDS exposure should be extended to family members of armed services personnel posted overseas.
At the same time, Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger has completed a directive for screening military personnel for exposure to AIDS that contains safeguards governing treatment of those who test positive, the Pentagon said Friday.
No date has been set for the start of screening, but top priority will be given to men and women now serving in, or subject to deployment to, areas of the world where diseases such as malaria are widespread. Contracting AIDS - acquired immune deficiency syndrome - in such an environment could hasten a person’s death.
Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Pete Wyro said that for the same reason, the Defense Department is now considering the question of whether family members of servicemen posted overseas should be screened. That ″is under consideration, but the policy on such screening must be addressed separately,″ Wyro said.
The screening will be performed with a blood test approved earlier this year by the Food and Drug Administration. The test can only indicate the presence of an AIDS antibody, meaning a person has been exposed. Thus a positive result does not mean a person will actually contract the disease.
Those who test positively on the initial test will be subjected to increasingly sophisticated medical exams to determine their precise status.
Wyro said no final estimate had been developed, but that the initial screening program could cost roughly $20 million. There currently are 2.1 million men and women serving on active-duty with the military services, plus another 1.2 million reserves.
In his directive, Weinberger reinforced an earlier decision to begin screening all military recruits for the AIDS antibody. He said recruits who tested positive would not be eligible for military service.
Active-duty individuals who test positive but who ″manifest no evidence of progressive clinical illness ... shall be retained″ in the military, he wrote.
A medical examination will be required at least annually, and the individual’s assignments and deployments to overseas posts may be limited, but he cannot be discharged solely because he shows signs of having been exposed to the disease, Weinberger said.
AIDS, a virus that inhibits the body’s ability to fight other disease, most often strikes homosexuals, intraveneous drug abusers and recipients of contaminated blood transfusions.
Weinberger also wrote that if a soldier discloses he is using drugs or is a homosexual during the course of an ″epidemiological assessment,″ that information ″may not be used against the service member in actions under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.″
But information pertaining to drug abuse or homosexuality derived through separate investigations still can be used in disciplinary actions, regardless of what the soldier told his military doctor, Weinberger wrote.
Groups representing homosexuals have criticized the testing program as likely to be used by the military to search out gay men and women.
Wyro said people testing positive can only be discharged if they already are disabled by the disease, or doctors have determined they have the disease and it will only get worse.
Such individuals will be entitled to an honorable discharge and eligible for continued medical care, Wyro said.
More than 14,000 people have contracted AIDS, and roughly half have died. No one has recovered.