It’s bad enough that a US Marine lost both his legs in combat. But after TSA agents forced the wheelchair-bound man to stand up, walk and remove his prosthetic legs at an airport in Phoenix, he was publicly humiliated for his disability.
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) sent a letter to the Transportation Security Administration this week, condemning TSA officers for mistreating the wounded soldier on March 13. The Marine, who is still on active duty, had lost both of his legs in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast while deployed. The man is now confined to a wheelchair. He showed up at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport with an escort that helped him get around.
In his complaint addressed to TSA Administrator John Pistole, Hunter said that the agency made the Marine feel “humiliated.”
“The individual escorting this Marine asked the TSA officer which of the two checkpoints to enter and received the response, ‘either one,’ only to be told moments later they should have entered a different way,” Hunter explained in his letter.
Moments later, TSA officers ordered the wounded Marine to get out of his wheelchair and subsequently remove his prosthetic legs, subjecting him to immense pain while he struggled to get out of his wheelchair.
“A TSA officer asked the Marine to stand and walk to an alternate area, despite the fact that he physically could not stand or walk on his own,” Hunter wrote. “With numerous TSA officers sitting and unwilling to assist, an officer then made him remove his legs, then put them back on, only to advance to a secondary screening location where he was asked again to stand, with extraordinary difficult, while his wheelchair was examined for explosives.”
The invasive search occurred while several Marines were returning to San Diego, California from Phoenix, Arizona. The disabled Marine showed his military ID, which didn’t stop the TSA from publicly humiliating him and questioning his injuries.
The Marine’s escort was so enraged by the incident that Hunter’s office was contacted to shed light on the situation. Hunter was particularly struck by the incident, since he himself was a Marine veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
The incident is also alarming, considering it took place at the Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, which is a joint civil-military public airport. The airport facilities are also home to the Sky Harbor Air National Guard Base. With so many military personnel entering and leaving through the airport, TSA officers in charge of security likely encounter many wounded soldiers – and should therefore have received proper training on how to handle passengers with disabilities.
But the case detailed by Hunter demonstrates otherwise: the congressman included two photos of the inspection in his letter, which show a TSA officer patting down the injured Marine and examining the prosthetic leg in search for explosives.
Hunter has asked the TSA to clarify its procedures on how to handle wounded troops and to show “situational awareness” in cases where the passenger is clearly disabled.
“While I recognize the necessity to appropriately screen passengers, I am concerned by the apparent lack of situational awareness and respect among TSA officers – specifically when it comes to the treatment of war wounded,” Hunter wrote. “I am hopeful you will give this situation the attention it deserves.”