The Obama administration’s move to allow homosexuals to serve openly in the U.S. military - along with the House’s confirming vote and the Senate’s pending one scheduled for this week - has completely ignored the known health and medical implications of homosexuality.
Medical readiness - the overall health of the military - is so fundamentally important to military effectiveness that each branch of the military has well-established standards of medical fitness. Numerous common medical and behavioral conditions exclude individuals from serving in the military. Even a history of medical or behavioral conditions is enough to exclude someone from service. Why? Simply stated, the risks to the individual and to the health of the entire force are too large and unacceptable. For example, a history of diabetes, any history of asthma after the age of 13, and eating disorders lasting more than three months and occurring after the age of 13 are all disqualifying, according to Army regulations. The military does not “discriminate” against people with asthma but rather discerns unacceptable risks to the person and to the military.
More than two decades of solid medical information define the health risks of homosexual behavior. In fact, the information has been validated and is more accurate than ever. The overall incidence of new HIV infections is relatively constant at 56,000 new infections per year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), men who have sex with men (MSM) of all races are the only group in the United States with rising numbers of new HIV infections. Additionally, the CDC says, “MSM (53 percent) and persons exposed through high-risk (contact with a person known to have, or be at high risk for, HIV infection) heterosexual contact (32 percent) accounted for 85 percent of all HIV/AIDS cases diagnosed in the 34 (reporting) states in 2007.” According to the CDC, gay men make up approximately 2 percent of the U.S. population, but 53 percent of new infections. This is an HIV diagnosis rate of 44 times that of other men. The CDC also reported that in 2006, 64 percent of reported syphilis infections were accounted for by the same 2 percent of the population - MSM.
Looking solely at infectious diseases, it is well supported by epidemiological data that those who engage in homosexual behavior are a high-risk population. Sexual attractions are a personal and private matter. However, homosexual behavior is not medically benign. According to the recently signed National HIV/AID Strategy for the United States, “The United States cannot reduce the number of HIV infections nationally without better addressing HIV among gay and bisexual men.”
There is often a difference of opinion about what measures should be taken to minimize the effects of a behavior, but there can be no disagreement that allowing the open practice of homosexuality in the armed forces would decrease their overall health and effectiveness. Doesn’t this create a privileged status for homosexuals and discriminate against others who are excluded from military service? Even though HIV-positive people are not permitted to enlist and current service members are tested periodically for HIV, to allow open homosexuals into the military carries an assumption that they will be permitted to continue to engage in homosexual relations, and such behavior among men creates a high risk of future HIV infection. Those who become HIV positive while serving in the military are not discharged if they show no symptoms of illness - but they also cannot be deployed to international combat zones and thus pose a direct threat to readiness. Will we allow other people with unacceptable medical risks to enter the military because a cure or preventative measure may be found in the future?
Have our legislators seen the medical information from the CDC included in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy? People whose sexual orientation leads to high-risk behavior have serious health issues and need care. The vision of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy is thoughtfully formulated. However, I strongly disagree with the use of the military as a testing ground for the implementation of this strategy. Furthermore, it remains an unproven hypothesis that the increased health risks to MSM are largely caused by factors other than their chosen behavior. Has the secretary of defense sought a medical readiness assessment from the surgeon general of each military branch and made a decision to move forward based upon the well-established facts?
Of course, as a nation, we should care for people and apply all possible preventative measures. However, with the current state of the science, it is impossible to suggest that having practicing homosexuals in the military would not decrease military readiness and effectiveness.
Dr. Robert J. Labutta is a retired colonelwho spent 24 years as a U.S. Army physician.