With the repeal of the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy comes significant opportunities for improvement upon HIV prevention and treatment programs already in place. DADT repeal provides those enlisted in the military with the opportunity to be honest and open with their health care providers about their sexual habits and orientation, giving the military a much clearer picture of their soldiers’ lives and needs, and how to most effectively approach prevention and treatment of HIV.

A study in the October 1 issue of JAIDS: Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes, led by Shilpa Hakre, DrPH, MPH, of the US Military HIV Research Program, indicates that, out of 64 U.S. Navy and Marines personnel who were identified by the Navy Bloodborne Infection Management Center as having contracted HIV while the DADT policy was in effect, 84% of respondents reported same-sex contact as one of the risk factors that contributed to infection. Of that 84%, most also reported inconsistent condom use (especially during anal sex), contact with “new, casual, or temporary” partners, and alcohol use as contributing factors to their infection. Other common risky behaviors included meeting anonymous partners in bars and clubs, as well as on the internet, and gross underestimation of personal risk of acquiring HIV during unprotected sexual contact due to the fact that those infected knew or trusted their partner and his or her HIV status, which greatly contributed to infrequent use of condoms.

Prior to the repeal of DADT, some members of the U.S. military would seek medical care for HIV and AIDS outside of the military due to their concerns about being stigmatized or discharged for revealing their homosexual orientation, resulting in the impedance of military prevention and treatment efforts, and significant underreporting of new HIV infections.

New studies within the U.S. military reveal a significantly higher rate of male-to-male sexual contact among enlisted servicemen than previously reported, most likely a result of “liberalized responses due to DADT repeal effects”, according to researchers. This increase in transparency helps to clarify the factors that put military personnel at risk of HIV infection. Repeal of DADT also allows for more open and effective targeting of prevention efforts, and brings to light opportunities for these efforts, such as the promotion of proper condom use. Dr. Hakre and co-authors conclude, “DADT repeal may afford opportunities for facilitating necessary primary HIV prevention strategies such as those targeting condom use and newer social outlets such as internet networking.”