As a Marine, I swore always to remain faithful to those serving by my side. That includes ensuring our veterans receive the care and respect they are due after they return home.
A veteran who lost his arm in combat recently shared with me the struggles of trying to get through Transportation Security Administration security at the airport. With one arm, he has to take off his belt and shoes, then remove the laptop from his bag, a feat in and of itself.
Afterward, he has one of two options: take off his prosthetic or be patted down then swabbed for explosive residue in front of everyone.
I was shocked to learn about the conditions disabled veterans face when traveling by air throughout our country. Many of these brave men and women are in wheelchairs, are amputees or both.
These veterans took an oath to protect our nation but are now subjected to a rigorous and demeaning screening process when traveling.
This is no way to treat any member of our armed services, let alone our veterans who have already sacrificed beyond measure.
That it is why I worked with Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., to introduce the Veterans Expedited TSA Screening (VETS) Safe Travel Act – to protect our heroes' dignity and make flying easier.
This bill would grant certain disabled veterans TSA PreCheck at no cost, provided they successfully pass the background check and interview process. Currently, there are about 70,000 amputee, 100,000 paralyzed and 130,000 blind veterans who desperately need the relief this bill would provide.
Duckworth, a U.S. Army helicopter pilot who lost both her legs in 2004 when her Black Hawk was shot down over Iraq, said, “Millions of veterans have sacrificed a great deal in service to our nation and returned home with service-connected disabilities. For those of us who rely on prosthetics and wheelchairs for mobility, air travel and passing through airport security can be a challenge.”
She is not alone in this belief.
I've spoken to many veterans who have endured similar experiences, and I was especially concerned when I heard the story of one veteran who lost his right leg in service to his country. When he approached the security checkpoint at his local airport, the TSA officer told him, “I'm sorry, sir, I'm going to have to pull off your prosthetic so that we can swab it down.”
This man had given his leg in an explosion to protect our freedom to fly safely and without fear, and now he was being treated as a potential threat to the people he swore to defend.
Often these men and women have to travel great distances for long-term medical care, to receive treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder, to train with service animals, and to see loved ones. The idea that they should be required to stand in front of a crowd of people and expose the wounds they received while fighting our nation's enemies is troubling enough. That they are then patted down and searched as if they were the threat themselves is beyond degrading.
In addition to the bipartisan support for this bill in the Senate, this legislation is supported by the Wounded Warrior Project, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Honor Flight Network, Disabled American Veterans, the American Legion, and the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Meredith Rosenbeck, the CEO of the Honor Flight Network, has called this bill and the expedited TSA screening process it would provide an invaluable service to our nation's disabled veterans.
With more than 300,000 disabled servicemen and women living in the United States, this legislation cannot wait. I will continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to ensure it becomes law.
Our veterans deserve no less.
Todd Young, a Republican, is Indiana's senior U.S. senator.