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Public Statements

Helping Heroes Fly Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. GABBARD. Mr. Speaker, I rise in strong support of 1344, the Helping Heroes Fly Act, and yield myself such time as I may consume.

In response to documented grievances my fellow servicemembers made because of various challenges and trying experiences that they went through at airport checkpoints across the country, I introduced the Helping Heroes Fly Act to ensure that the Transportation Security Administration--working alongside veterans advocacy organizations--develop sensible screening policies that honor and respect the service and sacrifice of our Nation's injured and disabled heroes.

On March 27 of this year, just a few days after this legislation was introduced, the Transportation Security Administration made an announcement of some improvements that they have made in this area as they took steps to expedite airport screening for severely injured members of our Armed Forces. With these changes, individuals can presently request assistance ahead of time and move through security checkpoints without having to remove their shoes, light outerwear, jackets, or hats. Taking off a jacket--while maybe a simple inconvenience for you and I--can be a very physically challenging task for someone who, for example, has lost the use of an arm.

While this announcement was a good step, it didn't go nearly far enough, as there are still more improvements that need to be made. As I've spoken with wounded warriors and listened to their experiences, I've heard stories that have been varied and included things like having to take off a prosthetic leg, putting the leg through the X-ray machine, and then having to balance on one leg going through the full body scan without help from anyone.

This is unacceptable. Severely injured and disabled Active Duty and veterans both experience widely varied screening protocols among different airports, and even among screeners in the same airport. This makes it very hard for a wounded warrior to anticipate and prepare what will be required of them, to make sure that they are ready physically and mentally. Again, this may not seem like much to us, but to someone--a trained and hardened warrior--learning to adjust to these severe injuries, it can sometimes be difficult and can be the difference between a smooth and dignified screening experience or one that is filled with frustration, shame, and pain for the injured servicemember and delays for all people waiting in that screening line.

Another issue that frequently has come up has been privacy. Veterans have shared with me their own experiences of having to take off prosthetics, despite TSA guidance that it's not necessary. And in the instances where extra screening of these prosthetics is necessary, it has been done in public view, even when clothing needs to be removed.

No one--no one--should be required to remove their shirt or pants in public, nor should scans of sensitive or private areas be viewed by other airline passengers. Again, this has been already a humiliating, shameful experience for some veterans when there's absolutely no requirement or necessity for it.

The Disabled American Veterans have spoken in strong support of this legislation stating:

At some airports, our amputee members receive relaxed screening, while at others these screenings are horrific. Perhaps it is TSA's purpose to make screenings unpredictable. Some screenings have required these amputees to expose their prostheses when they lack the ability to reposition their clothing, and TSA agents are not allowed to help them, nor do they allow spouses or traveling companions to enter search areas to assist the amputees.

Our objective with this legislation is to ensure consistent treatment by screeners, greater attention to privacy concerns, and consulting with these advocacy organizations who speak for our wounded warriors to ensure they have a voice in the process.

This bill before us today, the Helping Heroes Fly Act, achieves these improvements by requiring TSA to take into account the privacy of the individual being screened. It also mandates training of screening officers on the expedited protocols to make sure that no matter where you travel, no matter what city you are in, you will have consistent screening procedures so you know what to expect. TSA is also required to consult with these advocacy organizations to make sure that as these changes are implemented, that the unique needs of our wounded warriors are implemented to the best of its ability.

To ensure these changes over the long term, this legislation requires regular reporting to Congress, as well as maintenance of the TSA's operations center that these wounded warriors and veterans can contact for assistance as they prepare to travel.

Mr. Speaker, as you well know, members of our U.S. Armed Forces are entrusted to protect the security of our country with their lives. By definition, these individuals pose very little risk to aviation security and should be consistently screened in a manner befitting and honoring their service and sacrifice.

I urge my colleagues to ensure our Nation's wounded warriors are treated respectfully, and urge them to vote ``yes'' in support of H.R. 1344.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Ms. GABBARD. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

It's been an honor to stand here on the floor today in a bipartisan manner with my colleagues.

I want to thank the gentlewoman from Indiana for managing this and her strong support and advocacy for this issue, which is symbolic of us taking action to honor our heroes, especially as we head into Memorial Day.

You've heard from many Members why this is a good bill and why it should pass. It's been subject to scrutiny by all the stakeholders, and it has resulted in a bill that will be efficient and effective.

One example of steps we have taken to make sure that this is an efficient bill is making sure that, as we provide training as a central requirement to make sure that consistency in all airports exists, the provision requiring employee training was modified to make it clear that only screening personnel who participate in these expedited services will be mandatory--required to be trained under this bill--as opposed to requiring every single employee of the TSA to be trained, even when their job has nothing to do with passenger screening responsibilities. This modification ensures that the department's limited resources are spent in the most efficient manner, while also ensuring the consistent policies and treatment that are our objectives of this legislation.

I'd like to take a moment to highlight the support that this bill has gotten from veteran organizations. In addition to the Disabled American Veterans, I also have letters of support from the Wounded Warrior Project, the American Legion, and the Paralyzed Veterans of America. The Wounded Warrior Project sums it up perfectly, as they say:

Wounded warriors should not have to sacrifice their privacy, encounter conflicting screening policies and procedures, or be subject to significant travel delays. We welcome the steps proposed in H.R. 1344 to foster expedited screening and to protect the privacy of our wounded warriors going through this process. We also commend the proposal to require the TSA to continue to consult with veterans' service organizations as they develop these improved screening processes.

Mr. Speaker, before yielding back, I just want to take a moment to thank the chairman of the committee, Mr. McCaul, and the ranking member, Bennie Thompson, whose strong support for this bill allowed it to move very quickly and to be considered here on the floor here today. Subcommittee Chairman Mr. Hudson and Ranking Member Richmond, as well as Sheila Jackson Lee, along with my colleague, Mrs. Brooks from Indiana, have also been incredible champions and supporters. Last but not least, I would like to take a moment to recognize senior professional staff Brian Turbyfill, who has been invaluable in providing his assistance in guiding this bill through the process.

Mr. Speaker, this is a commonsense measure that aligns with the intelligence-driven, risked-based approach to security that TSA is striving for. It addresses a clearly identified problem and provides a solution that will serve and honor the sacrifices of our Nation's selfless heroes and great servant leaders.

I ask my colleagues to support this bill, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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