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Thursday, July 11, 2019 1:00 am

Panel OKs Young's bill to aid disabled veterans at airport

BRIAN FRANCISCO | The Journal Gazette

A U.S. Senate committee has advanced legislation introduced by Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., that would speed airport security screenings for military veterans with certain disabilities.

The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee approved the Veterans Expedited TSA Screening Safe Travel Act during a Wednesday meeting.

Young's bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., would extend the Transportation Security Administration's PreCheck program at no cost to veterans who are amputees, paralyzed or blind. The senators have said 300,000 veterans would be affected.

TSA PreCheck allows travelers to go through airport security checkpoints without removing shoes, belts or light jackets or taking laptops or liquids out of carry-on bags. The program costs $85 for a five-year membership but is offered free to active-duty military personnel, Reserves and National Guard members.

Young said in a statement that making TSA PreCheck available for free to veterans with disabilities “would help improve the lives of individuals who selflessly put themselves in harm's way to serve our nation.”

The committee approved two other bills introduced or co-sponsored by Young. One measure would set up a public-private working group to establish a common definition of blockchain technology used in digital currencies and other financial applications; the other proposal would update environmental sensitivity index maps for the Great Lakes.

The three bills advance to the entire Senate.

Also Wednesday, Young announced that he and two senators had introduced legislation to expand participation in a federal housing program for homeless veterans.

The Veteran Housing Opportunities and Unemployment Support Extension Act would allow homeless veterans who do not receive honorable discharges to qualify for rental assistance vouchers through a collaboration between the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“This legislation will help ensure that many more chronically homeless veterans receive the housing support they deserve,” Young said in a statement.

He is joined on the legislation by Democratic Sens. Jon Tester of Montana and Chris Murphy of Connecticut. In a joint news release, the senators' offices said that although only 5% of veterans receive an other-than-honorable discharge when leaving the military, those who do make up a quarter of the homeless veteran population.

Veterans receiving an other-than-honorable discharge cannot access VA case management services, including the housing vouchers program known as Housing and Urban Development-VA Supportive Housing.

HUD counted 37,878 homeless veterans during its annual national survey in 2018, including 539 homeless veterans in Indiana. The U.S. veteran homeless population has fallen eight straight years since reaching 74,087 in 2010, according to HUD.

The senators' offices said their legislation is supported by the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, National Alliance to End Homelessness, American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, AMVETS and National Housing Law Project.

bfrancisco@jg.net