Buried in the $717 billion National Defense Authorization Act is a fantastic measure for disabled veterans: easier access to military flights as an escape from the horror of commercial air travel.
Under the Disabled Veterans Access to Space-A Travel Act, veterans with a service-connected, permanent disability rating of 100% can hop on any scheduled or unscheduled military flight within the continental United States operated by Air Mobility Command "as such transportation is provided to members of the armed forces entitled to retired or retainer pay."
The legislation was introduced by House Veterans Affairs Committee vice chairman and Florida Rep. Gus Bilirakis way back in 2016 and eventually merged with the fiscal 2019 NDAA that President Donald Trump signed into law on Monday.
“Disabled veterans who have a service-connected permanent disability rated as 100 percent cannot travel on military flights unless they are military retirees,” Bilirakis’ office said of the legislation at the time, according to Sunshine State News. “This bill would authorize veterans who have a service-connected, permanent disability rated as 100 percent to travel on Space-A at no additional cost to the Department of Defense and without aircraft modifications.”
According to Connective Vets, the push for the expansion of Space-A travel found a public advocate from Lanna Britt, a military spouse whose husband Tim, an Army MP, was injured when vehicle-borne improvised explosive device targeted his convoy in central Baghdad. His injuries, which earned him a 100% disability rating, made traveling near-impossible, according to Lanna.
“Long, crowded flights aren’t easy for anyone, but they can be a nightmare for 100 percent disabled veterans, depending on their injuries,” Lanna Britt told ConnectingVets in July. “100 percent disabled veterans live with daily pain and stress, and this is just one way we can show our appreciation at no extra cost to taxpayers, it’s a no-brainer.”
According to data from the Government Accountability Office, 77.3% of space-available seats in 2011 were occupied by just 2.3% of the 8.4 million individuals eligible for the program.
“The Space-Available Travel program is a benefit rightfully extended to all military retirees, yet it excludes those who are 100 percent disabled,” Bilirakis told Sunshine State News on Monday. “The brave men and women who served our country, and returned home injured, have already paid a big price on our behalf. If there is space available for travel on a military aircraft, there is no reason our 100 percent disabled veterans shouldn’t be on that flight."