Under the law of the past decade, members of the armed forces who suffered cancer, diabetes or other ailments that made them "permanent non-deployables" could be forced out of the service.
Members who carry the human immunodeficiency virus, which usually leads to AIDS, and who are similarly non-deployable, couldn't be.
This is a double standard that discriminated in favor of the HIV-positive, say critics, many of them conservatives, in support of a new law, enacted this month, that mandates the discharge within six months of all those who are HIV-positive.
This special treatment under the old law has been overlooked, they say, amid an outcry against the new law.
They suggest that all permanently deployable personnel be treated the same: Retire them, with eligibility for medical and financial benefits.
"The bottom line is, if a soldier can't deploy, he should leave," says John Hillen, a former Army officer who is an analyst at the Heritage Foundation. "We're not running a jobs program here. It's a privilege to serve in the military. This is an institution that needs a different set of values than IBM or Federal Express."
About 1,050 HIV-positive service members on active duty are permanently non-deployable and relegated to desk jobs. They are tested every six months. When AIDS develops, they are retired and are eligible for benefit checks and their families are entitled to free military health care.
About 5,500 other service members are classified non-deployable for other medical reasons, such as cancer or diabetes.
Unlike those with HIV, these men and women are periodically evaluated by their individual services based on that service's standards.
Of the 5,485 medically permanent non-deployables, all but about 280 are in the Air Force and Army. The Navy and Marine Corps deploy men and women at a much higher rate and cannot afford to maintain many non-deployables.
The new legislation, the work of Rep. Robert K. Dornan, California Republican, evoked a ferocious response, not only from the homosexual lobby, but also from Republicans and other conservatives, including several pundits. President Clinton, who signed the measure into …