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Review Board Denies Benefits to Sailor With AIDS

Times Staff Writer

Citing a policy forbidding homosexuality, a Navy administrative board Tuesday decided that a San Diego sailor who is dying of AIDS should be discharged without medical retirement benefits.

The administrative discharge board, composed of three appointed commissioned officers, will forward its decision within two weeks to Washington, where the Department of the Navy will make the final decision, said Julie Swan, a civilian public affairs officer for the Navy.

Petty Officer 3rd Class Bryon G. Kinney, 28, a medical corpsman for seven years, was unanimously found by the board to be a homosexual and thus to have fraudulently enlisted in the Navy. He was given a general discharge under honorable conditions but will not receive medical or disability benefits through the Navy, Swan said.

He may, however, receive medical care at Veterans Administration hospitals, Swan said.

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The three board members deliberated about 20 minutes after the daylong hearing at the 32nd Street Naval Base. The members, Lt. Cmdr. Nancy Price, Lt. Don Price and Lt. (j.g.) Gregg Copeland, refused to comment on their decision or the case in general.

The commander of the base, Capt. Tom Vaught, barred the media from Tuesday’s hearing on the grounds that the press could unnecessarily influence the board, Swan said.

According to Navy policy, “homosexuality is incompatible with military life and seriously impairs the accomplishment of the military mission such as mutual confidence, good morale and active recruitment,” said Lt. Stephen Pietropaoli, a spokesman for the Navy.

Kinney’s attorneys said they will attempt to appeal the decision through Navy channels and will file suit in federal court, but said it is unlikely anything could be resolved within a year.

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“What he needs is a medical retirement so he can be comfortable in his last days,” said Tom Homann, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney representing Kinney. “This is the cruelest decision they could have made.”

While the board was deliberating, Kinney lay on two chairs in an adjoining room, resting his head on a duffel bag.

“I feel I’ve given them seven years of good service,” said Kinney, whose face is disfigured from Kaposi sarcoma, a form of skin cancer associated with AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome).

“What a person does in their bedroom is their own business. I wouldn’t be here (discharge hearing) if I didn’t get sick. I just want to take some time and live,” he said as he walked into the board room to hear the

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findings.

AIDS is a fatal disorder of the immune system that is caused by a virus. Most of its victims are homosexual men, and researchers believe it is transmitted through sexual contact. Haitians, drug users and hemophiliacs also are susceptible to the disease.

The Navy already has discharged another San Diego sailor suffering from AIDS on the basis of his homosexuality. Petty Officer 2nd Class Daniel Abeita, 28, a cook for seven years, accepted a general discharge under honorable conditions without a hearing because his health was failing and he wanted to spend time with his family in Austin, Tex., said attorney Charles T. Bumer, who represents Abeita and Kinney.

The Navy gave Abeita a one-way bus ticket home two weeks ago. He will not receive any medical or disability benefits through the Navy but will be able to receive free medical care through VA hospitals, Swan said.

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The decision to discharge Kinney came after he applied for medical retirement, shortly after he was diagnosed in November as having AIDS, Swan said. The medical board, which was reviewing the case for retirement, decided that Kinney should be “processed through an administrative board because of the findings in the record,” Swan said.

In the hearing, the Navy, represented by Lt. Nels H. Kelstrom, presented four documents from Kinney’s medical records that purported that he was homosexual. None of Kinney’s doctors testified, a fact that enrages his attorneys.

“They don’t have a sort of case that should result in a homosexual discharge,” Bumer said. “The evidence was second- and third-hand at best.”


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