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Hunter: TSA ‘humiliated’ Marine in wheelchair

Mar. 19, 2013 - 05:04PM   |  
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A California lawmaker wants to know why a Marine who lost both legs in a roadside bombing was made to walk at a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint in Phoenix on March 13 despite being confined to a wheelchair.

Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter wrote TSA Administrator John Pistole on Monday asking why the Marine, who was traveling with other injured and recovering troops, was told to get out of his wheelchair and walk to a screening area, even though he had “limited to no mobility.”

The Marine was asked to remove his prostheses for inspection, put them back on, and go to a second screening area where he again was asked to stand.

The Marine “was ‘humiliated’ ” and not treated with respect, Hunter said.

“These Marines had an unfortunate experience, which is worthy of your attention and any explanation you can provide,” he wrote, adding that photos were taken at the scene to support the allegations. “I would like to know the process for screening individuals in this or similar situations.”

TSA has several programs to help severely wounded and injured troops in transit, according to agency officials. For example, the Wounded Warrior/Military Severely Injured Operations Center alerts security directors at airports of troops’ needs if TSA gets advance notice.

It appears the Marine Hunter wrote about had an escort, but the system failed when the escort and the group initially were directed to the wrong screening checkpoint.

Hunter said that when the Marine had difficulties, none of the TSA officers in the area moved to assist.

“I would like to know what discretion a TSA officer has in this situation as well as the ability of TSA officers to assist an individual [moving] between screening locations, especially if the individual is unable to walk or move on his or her own,” he added.

According to TSA regulations, all amputees with artificial limbs are required to pass through a full-body scanner, receive a pat-down and be swabbed — usually on an arm or hand — for explosives. If the airport lacks the right type of scanner, prosthetic limbs are X-rayed with a portable machine.

Wounded troops are not required to remove their prosthetics, although some — namely those with prosthetic arms — do so to expedite the process.

TSA says the extra security measures are needed to ensure “all individuals are screened appropriately.”

Objects have been found inside prosthetics before, including knives and even swords. “We have an obligation to check,” TSA spokesman Nico Melendez said in February.

“Our current policies and procedures focus on ensuring that all passengers, regardless of their personal situations and needs, are treated equally and with the dignity, respect and courtesy they deserve,” a TSA statement says.

The unnamed Marine does not appear to be the only veteran who had issues with TSA security on March 13. Iraq veteran J.R. Salzman, who lost his right arm in a roadside bombing in 2006, noted on Twitter that although he removed his prosthesis for x-ray at a Colorado Springs, Colo., airport, he was singled out for added measures that day.

“I propose a new TSA rule,” Salzman tweeted. “If you lost a limb for your country, you can’t be treated like a … terrorist when you go through security.”

Salzman later said in an interview that although he removed his prosthetic arm and put it through the x-ray, TSA insisted on swabbing his other arm for chemical explosives residue.

“I have no problem with the screenings, but there seems to be a complete lack of education. It’s like they think I’m hiding something in my living limb,” he said.

Salzman, who travels extensively as a freelance journalist and para-athlete, said TSA training and education must be more consistent.

“I understand what they are doing, but they just seem to have a lack of skills. The little airport near my house is excellent, because they know who I am. But I never know what to expect when I leave here,” he said.

TSA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“We are doing our best to learn more about this situation. TSA works to facilitate the screening of injured and wounded service members with dignity and respect.... In the coming days, TSA will expand the Wounded Warriors Screening program to offer PreCheck, or expedited screening, to this group of veterans," TSA officials said in a written statement.

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