Ms. GABBARD. Mr. Speaker, I rise today in strong support of the "Helping Heroes Fly Act.''
I authored this legislation to authorize and improve the Transportation Security Administration's, TSA, Wounded Warrior/Military Severely Injured Joint Support Operations Program, which facilitates and expedites the passenger screening process for severely injured or disabled members of the Armed Forces and veterans.
Customer service at airport checkpoints is an issue that evokes passionate reactions from constituents across the Nation. As a representative from Hawaii, one of the country's foremost vacation destinations, I have a special interest in ensuring that the screening experience is as effective and smooth as possible. Unfortunately, too often, we hear stories from our constituents and visitors about time-consuming, inconvenient, and invasive TSA checkpoint searches. For wounded members of the Armed Forces and veterans, however, this ordeal can be a particularly difficult experience due to the nature of both their injuries and disabilities and TSA's strict screening requirements.
Recognizing the need to improve customer service for all passengers, particularly those with a disability or hindering medical condition, TSA has, in recent years, established several alternative methods of screening, including TSA's Wounded Warrior Screening Program.
Under the Wounded Warrior Screening Program, a severely injured or disabled service member, veteran, or family member contacts the program's Operation Center at TSA before a flight to arrange expedited screening. An officer at the Operations Center then notifies the appropriate personnel at the involved airports to ensure that screening is conducted in such a way as to make the screening experience as simple as possible.
The establishment of the Wounded Warrior Screening Program is a positive step. However, through my work on the Committee on Homeland Security, I have spoken with advocates of members of the Armed Forces and veterans and have come to learn that the program could be improved. In particular, as implemented in the field, there is a lack of consistency that needs to be addressed. Some wounded warriors have reported a lack of sensitivity and respect for privacy during the screening experience. Certainly, active engagement with advocate organizations would improve the program and help ensure that it accomplishes its goal.
To improve the program, the "Helping Heroes Fly Act'' requires:
TSA to develop a process to expedite screening for severely injured or disabled members of the Armed Forces and veterans that protects the privacy of the individual being screened; requires TSA to consult with advocacy organizations to ensure that TSA is addressing the needs of wounded warriors to the best of their ability; mandates training of Transportation Security Officers on the expedited screening process protocols; requires TSA to maintain an operations center that severely injured or disabled members of the Armed Forces and veterans can contact for assistance in advance of flying; and requires TSA to report to Congress on its progress in implementing the screening our Nation's wounded warriors and veterans deserve.
Mr. Speaker, the "Helping Heroes Fly Act'' is an important, bipartisan bill, crafted in consultation with advocacy organizations.
It comes in response to documented grievances associated with airport checkpoints and represents an important step we can take in acknowledging the service of our Nation's heroes.
Just this week, we got reports of the difficulty a Marine at Phoenix's Sky Harbor airport had during the screening process.
The ``Helping Heroes Fly Act'' will ensure TSA establishes the policies that will allow them to do so.
I urge my colleagues to support the "Helping Heroes Fly Act'' so that we can ease the screening process for my fellow service members and show them the respect and honor they have earned.
With that, Mr. Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.