TSA Made Wounded Marine Remove Prosthetic Legs, Rep. Hunter Claims

Legless Marine was forced to remove his prosthetic legs, Rep. Hunter claims.

ByABC News
March 20, 2013, 3:08 PM

March 20, 2013 — -- A Marine who lost both legs to a bomb was "humiliated" at a TSA security checkpoint in an Arizona airport when the agents insisted he stand up and was also told to remove his prosthetic legs, a California congressman claims in a letter to the TSA.

A TSA spokesman, however, told ABC News that the agency has reviewed the surveillance video of the incident and insisted the Marine was never asked to remove his prosthetics.

The alleged encounter occurred March 13 when several Marines who were recovering from wounds were passing through Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport security en route to San Diego, Calif. One of the Marines was in a wheelchair because he had lost both legs in a bomb explosion and had "limited to no mobility," according to the letter from Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif.

After entering the security checkpoint, "a TSA officer asked the Marine to stand and walk to an alternate area.... 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 difficulty, while his wheelchair was examined for explosives," Hunter's letter said.

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"The Marine, whose prosthetics were exposed, was 'humiliated,' according to accounts," the congressman wrote.

Hunter's office said the letter is based on eyewitness accounts, but not from the Marine himself, who has not yet been identified. Joe Kasper, a spokesperson for Hunter, told ABC News that the Marine is still on active duty and isn't going to talk because his command won't allow it.

Hunter's letter said he had "visual reference" from the scene, but his office did not make them public.

TSA spokesman David Castelveter said the tapes of the incident have been reviewed and at no point did the Marine ever remove his prosthetic legs. He also said the eight minute long video showed nothing out of the ordinary and said the screeners who performed the screening are military veterans, including one who was a Marine.

"The screening was done cooperatively," he said.

The TSA said there was no official complaint filed. Kasper said the congressman's office advised the Marines to make the incident known through Hunter's office instead of with the TSA, claiming it would be more effective in changing the way wounded veterans are treated at security checkpoints.

"It's not the first time, nor will it be the last time vets and war wounded have a similar experience," Kasper told ABC News. "The bigger question is how do we use this and other situations to improve the process for screening people—wounded service members specifically--who don't notify TSA ahead of time. Congress cannot legislate common sense and decency, a lot of what's lacking in the screening process, but we can try to make the procedures a lot less burdensome for our vets and wounded service members."

Hunter later released statement saying he has spoken about the incident with Deputy TSA Administrator John Halinski and said he has no doubt of "his interest in ensuring veterans are treated with respect." Hunter added, "I look forward to TSA's action in the coming days."

On the TSA web site there are several pages dedicated to the treatment of people with disabilities.

"A passenger can be screened without standing, walking, or being required to transfer out of a wheelchair or scooter; however, a passenger should inform a security officer of his or her ability before the screening begins," it reads.

As screening relates to prosthetics, according to the site, "Passengers with prostheses can be screened without removing them. The way screening will be conducted depends on the passenger's level of ability and whether or not he or she voluntarily chooses to remove his or her prosthetic during screening."