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House passes bill giving disabled vets expedited airport screenings

Legislation comes after reports of overzealous TSA inspections of injured veterans

May. 21, 2013 - 04:50PM   |  
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The House has passed a bill that would require the Transportation Security Administration to expedite security screenings for severely injured or disabled veterans and any family members or caregivers traveling with them.

The “Helping Heroes Fly” act, H.R. 1344, would mandate that TSA develop policies for screening disabled veterans to protect their privacy and let them keep on their shoes, belts and jackets when going through security. Taking them off, as is required of regular passengers, is “more than just an inconvenience” to service members or veterans who are wearing a prosthetic or are confined to a wheelchair, said bill sponsor Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii.

“These selfless heroes should never have to face lengthy, invasive and even humiliating screening procedures at our airports. The ‘Helping Heroes Fly Act’ is a strong step toward ensuring they do not face unnecessary hardships after having served our country with courage and dignity,” said Gabbard, who also serves as a captain in the Hawaii National Guard.

TSA’s scrutiny of wounded troops and personnel has drawn criticism this year from civilians and lawmakers who have seen problems at security checkpoints or received complaints of overzealous inspections, ranging from TSA officers asking amputees to remove artificial limbs to requiring everyone wearing a prosthetic or using a wheelchair be checked for explosives residue.

In March, TSA announced it had changed its rules to eliminate a requirement that injured troops remove their shoes, jackets or hats. To receive the expedited service, TSA asks affected personnel to call the agency’s Military Severely Injured Joint Service Operations Center before traveling.

Gabbard said her legislation would ensure consistency throughout the TSA system for screening personnel and eliminate undue burdens on troops or their caregivers.

“For our wounded warriors and their families, airline travel will now be a much more dignified experience,” she said.

Veterans organizations and the Air Line Pilots Association expressed support for the bill, calling it “common-sense legislation” that would improve overall security efforts.

“Allowing severely disabled and wounded service members and veterans to pass through expedited security screening not only honors our service members, but also moves the TSA towards a risk-based security approach to passenger screening, a necessary shift to focus resources on those who are intent to do harm,” Air Line Pilots Association President Lee Moak said.

“What is needed is a consistent, respectable and dignified way to allow the men and women who bear the scars of our wars to undergo screening without having to prove their prosthetic devices pose no threat,” said Disabled American Veterans National Commander Larry Polzin.

The measure must also pass in the Senate to become law.

Injured or ill personnel wishing to receive expedited screening now can contact TSA’s military operations center, MSIJSOC@dhs.gov or (888) 262-2396, before they travel to request the benefit.

TSA also offers escorted “curb-to-gate service” for injured or ill personnel who request it as well as the TSA Pre program to service members with a military common access card at four airports: Charlotte Douglas International Airport, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and Washington Dulles International Airport.

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