Petty Officer 3rd Class Bryon Kinney, the San Diego sailor discharged by the Navy after he applied for medical retirement benefits, died Monday of complications from AIDS.
Ironically, the 28-year-old sailor, who appealed the discharge and filed a lawsuit, was granted those medical and retirement benefits on Thursday, the day before he was admitted to the Navy Hospital in Balboa Park for the last time.
Secretary of the Navy John Lehman on Thursday notified the Naval Base in San Diego that Kinney would be granted a medical retirement, despite a unanimous decision in June by an administrative board that Kinney was a homosexual and therefore should be discharged without medical or disability benefits, said Julie Swan, a civilian public affairs officer for the Navy.
The Navy in San Diego could not explain why Lehman decided to overturn the discharge and grant benefits to Kinney. In addition, it was not known whether the decision indicated a shift in Navy policy regarding its personnel with acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
The Navy in June handed Kinney--a medical corpsman for seven years before he was diagnosed as having AIDS in November, 1984--an honorable discharge but no disability or medical retirement benefits. The discharge, however, was never enacted, Swan said, because Kinney had been hospitalized frequently since June, and discharges are not made effective when a person is hospitalized.
Because of Lehman's decision, Kinney's parents in New York state "will receive all the survivor benefits of any person who dies while on active duty," said Swan.
Despite the Navy's decision to discharge him in June, Kinney said he never regretted enlisting in the Navy in 1977.
"I like the Navy," Kinney said in June. "I had a good job and I enjoyed myself . . . I wouldn't be here (at the discharge hearing) if I didn't get sick. I just want to take some time and live."
The attorneys who helped Kinney in his fight against the Navy expressed sadness about his death. "At least he had the satisfaction of knowing that his case helped steer the Navy to a more humane course," said Thomas Homann, an American Civil Liberties Union attorney who worked on his lawsuit.
"What we don't know is whether he won a victory for everybody in the Navy or for him," said Kathleen Gilberd, a member of the legal team who defended Kinney in Navy administrative board hearings.
"I suppose when I go into a case like this you know that death is inevitable," Homann said. "It's still sad.
"We won the case but lost the client."