By Keith Laing
The Transportation Security Administration is pushing back on reports it forced a wheelchair-bound member of the Marines to remove his prosthetic legs during an airport security screening.
"After reviewing TSA video (CCTV), interviewing and receiving written statements from all officers involved, we found that the soldier was not asked and did not remove his prosthetic legs," TSA blogger Bob Burns wrote in a post on the agency's website.
"The screening was done by the book and lasted a total of 8 minutes from beginning to end," Burns continued. "By chance, the screening was conducted by two TSA Officers who were prior military. One was in the U.S. Air Force for 18 years, and the other was in the U.S. Marine Corps for 13 years."
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), who is a Marine veteran, seized on the initial reports about the incident to question the TSA's handling of wounded military personnel.
The incident involving the Marine occurred on March 13 at Phoenix, Ariz.'s Sky Harbor International Airport. Hunter wrote a letter to TSA after it was initially reported by Phoenix media outlets.
"TSA agents 'humiliated' wounded Marine with aggressive inspection," Hunter wrote on his Facebook page on Tuesday. "Yesterday, I contacted TSA regarding the mistreatment of a wounded San Diego Marine. How about some common sense and consideration from TSA?"
A spokesman for Hunter told The Hill on Thursday that the congressman has since spoken with TSA officials about the allegations and its general treatment of passengers who are in the military.
“This afternoon, I spoke with John Halinski, Deputy TSA Administrator, about the incident involving a wounded Marine traveling from Phoenix to San Diego. Based on our conversation and the level of detail provided, I have no doubt about Director Halinski’s commitment to providing for the care of our war wounded and his interest in ensuring veterans are treated with respect," Hunter said in a statement.
"TSA has been working to improve screening procedures for wounded veterans and service members, which began before the specific report I received and conveyed, and I look forward to TSA’s action in the coming days," he continued. "The TSA already maintains a wounded warrior program and operation center and building on this program will help serve the interests of veterans across the country.”
TSA has a section of its website dedicated to its procedures for screening "wounded warriors." According to the webpage, injured military personnel can arrange to have a special screening with extra care given to showing "empathy and respect" by contacting the agency in advance of their flight.
Burns said in his blog post that TSA had the "greatest respect" for passengers who are members of the military.
"We strive to ensure that all veterans and individuals with medical concerns are treated with dignity and respect," Burns wrote. "Twenty-five percent of TSA employees are prior military. Some are even still serving in the reserves and guard. I’m a veteran as well. We have the greatest respect for our men and women serving in the military and strive to screen them with the dignity they deserve."
Burns said TSA would be expanding its Pre-Check program to allow wounded military personnel to receive expedited screening.