Staff Sgt. Guillermo Tejada lost both legs to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan in 2010. Now rehabilitating in San Diego, Tejada travels regularly to compete in hand-cycling races and marathons.
When flying out of San Diego International Airport, Tejada receives the royal treatment. "They're waiting for us at the curb and take us through the whole process of checking in and going through security," he told msnbc.com.
Getting through airport security can be stressful on anyone. For wounded military service members, it can be a nightmare.
The Transportation Security Administration recently expanded a program to make the checkpoint experience for wounded warriors as simple as possible.
“Depending on the airport, the assistance provided can be meeting the passenger curbside when they get to the airport, assisting with checking of bags, getting boarding passes, and assisting through screening,” said TSA spokesperson Nico Melendez.
TSA’s Wounded Warrior Accommodations program is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. While TSA doesn’t directly provide all the services Melendez listed, it will — if alerted — coordinate a wounded warrior’s airport experience with airport staff, USO volunteers and airlines.
Many of the severely injured service members are traveling to or from hospitals and military bases, but many are going home, to a new duty station or on vacation.
The program has been active at a few airports for several years, serving more than 5,000 wounded military personnel traveling through Washington’s Reagan National Airport since 2010, Melendez said. In the past year, 1,500 people have been assisted at San Diego International Airport, according to Cheryl Paine, the TSA official who coordinates the program there.
Pre-check and other expedited, risk-based screening programs for people 75 and older and for those age 12 and under are now in place at most airports, so Melendez said it’s possible to offer the wounded warrior program nationwide. “If we know who they are and know they are coming through, we can expand the pre-check program and tailor it to their limitations and needs,” he said.
“After a decade of war we have more and more wounded warriors going through airports," he said. "If they don’t know these tools are available it won’t do them any good.”
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