Rep Tulsi Gabbard introduces bipartisan "Helping Heroes Fly Act"
Legislation endorsed by the Wounded Warrior Project, AFGE
Washington, DC — Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02), a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security, today introduced the Helping Heroes Fly Act. This bipartisan measure will improve airport security screening processes for wounded and severely disabled service members and veterans. Congressman Cedric Richmond (D-LA), ranking member on the Committee on Homeland Security´s Transportation Security Subcommittee, and Congressman Dave Joyce (R-OH), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, are original cosponsors.
"For our wounded warriors and their families, airline travel can be an especially difficult experience," said Gabbard. "Due to the nature of their injuries and disabilities, removing a belt, shoe or jacket can be more than just an inconvenience. These selfless heroes should not have to face lengthy, invasive, and even humiliating screening procedures at our airports. The Helping Heroes Fly Act is one step toward ensuring they do not face unnecessary hardships after having served our country with courage and dignity.
"I have heard from advocates of members of the Armed Forces and veterans, and found that the TSA´s current Wounded Warrior Screening Program should be improved in order to address inconsistencies. Some wounded warriors have also reported a lack of sensitivity and respect for privacy during the screening experience. The Helping Heroes Fly Act aims to address these inconsistencies and ensure a more positive experience for our wounded service members and veterans."
"This country has a duty to honor all veterans, especially the wounded and disabled. This means that the proper procedures are in place to ensure that every wounded warrior is treated with respect and dignity while traveling," said Richmond. "The Helping Heroes Fly Act upholds this commitment to our wounded servicemen and women. Considering all that they have already sacrificed for our freedoms, the least we can do is to alleviate the burden of excessive and unnecessary screening procedures."
"While we´ll never be able to repay our heroic servicemen and women for the sacrifices they’ve made in the line of duty, it should be our top priority to make their lives back home as easy and comfortable as possible," said Joyce. "The Helping Heroes Fly Act will ensure that our wounded warriors are able to get through airport security quickly and comfortably and avoid any disruptive or difficult screening practices. America’s servicemen and women are the best and brightest in the world and deserve a comfortable transition back home for protecting the freedoms we enjoy every day."
"For wounded veterans living with prosthetics or other service-connected injuries, airport screening is often a frustrating, degrading, and lengthy process," said Steve Nardizzi, CEO and Executive Director of Wounded Warrior Project. "With that concern, we welcome the introduction of the Helping Heroes Fly Act and the improvements it proposes to screen these men and women in a manner befitting their service."
"The American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (AFGE) applauds Rep. Tulsi Gabbard for introducing the Helping Heroes Fly Act to help establish clear TSA protocols to assist disabled veterans during the screening process," said J. David Cox, National President of AFGE and Chair of the AFL-CIO Veterans Council.
"Twenty-five percent of the Transportation Security Officer (TSO) workforce represented by AFGE are military veterans who chose to continue their service by providing aviation security at our nation´s airports. TSOs are especially aware of the need to balance respect and security in the screening of our nation's wounded warriors."
In response to these well-known criticisms, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) created the Wounded Warrior/Military Severely Injured Joint Services Operations Center Program (MSIJSOC) in 2005, or the "Wounded Warrior Screening Program". Through MSIJSOC, TSA offers sensitive screening of severely injured or disabled service members and veterans at our nation´s airports. To access this screening, a severely injured or disabled service member, veteran, or family member contacts the program´s Operation Center at TSA before a flight.
According to TSA, The number of wounded warriors using the MSIJSOC program is steadily increasing, with approximately 4,252 in 2011, 5,914 in 2012, and 3,315 as of February 2013.
The "Helping Heroes Fly Act" will:
· Authorize a Wounded Warrior Screening Program and the Operations Center to make the practice permanent and ensure that our nation´s heroes are shown their due respect and appreciation.
· Require the TSA to provide training to all screeners on the protocols of the program to prevent discrepancies in how wounded warriors utilizing the program are treated;
· Enhance the program´s efficacy in meeting the needs of wounded warriors by mandating ongoing consultations between TSA officials and advocacy organizations; and
· Ensure Congressional oversight of the program by implementing annual reporting requirements.
Click to read full text of the legislation