March 27, 2013 at 3:07 PM ET
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has expanded the services it offers to wounded military service members at airport security checkpoints nationwide.
Starting Wednesday, injured troops and veterans will no longer be required to remove their shoes, jackets or hats at airport security checkpoints as long as they call ahead to arrange for the expedited service.
“We’ve had a wounded warrior program in place for some time to assist injured members of the military through the checkpoint process,” said TSA spokesperson Nico Melendez. “Starting now, in airports with or without TSA PreCheck lanes, these heroes will be escorted to and through the checkpoints and will not have to remove hats, caps, light jackets or shoes.”
The expedited checkpoint rules for wounded warriors are now much the same as those the TSA offers for travelers over 75 and under 12 years of age, but in order to receive this new service, a wounded warrior or a travel companion must contact the Military Severely Injured Joint Services Operations Center via email or by phone (888.262.2396) at least 24 hours ahead of travel to be assured of the special service.
“Anything that can be done to make is easier for wounded warriors to go through airport checkpoints is a good thing,” Garry Augustine, national service director for the non-profit Disabled American Veterans, told NBC News.
He said amputees wearing prosthetic legs have reported difficult and uncomfortable experiences at airport checkpoints when asked to remove their shoes, so being able to leave shoes on “is definitely going to be an advantage.”
The new expedited program for wounded warriors is being added to the existing program that offers expedited screening to U.S. service personnel in uniform who, with proper identification, and whether traveling on official orders or not, are currently not required to remove their shoes or boots unless their footwear sets off alarms in the checkpoint security equipment.
“Last year, TSA screened 7,000 severely injured members of the military at airports,” said Melendez.
In addition to the new expedited procedures for wounded warriors, the TSA recently announced that, beginning April 25, small knives and a variety of previously prohibited items -- such as ski poles, pool cues and golf clubs (two per passenger) -- would be allowed as carry-on items.