Here’s why families of disabled veterans are blocked from Space-A travel

Matt Saintsing
August 21, 2018 - 1:39 pm

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Magbanua

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When an Iraq War veteran heard he could fly on military Space-A flights, he traveled to a nearby military installation only to find out that his family couldn't travel with him.

Kevin D., who asked us not to print his last name, is one of many veterans with a 100 percent VA disability rating who recently learned he’s eligible for this new benefit. But officials at the AMC passenger terminal on Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington told him a sad reality—while he's eligible to compete for room on military Space-A flights, his family isn’t. 

“Why would I use this, if I can’t take my kids or wife with me?” Kevin told Connecting Vets. “It’s kind of stupid, and (officials at Joint Base Lewis-McChord) agreed.” 

That’s because according to new guidance obtained by Connecting Vets from the Air Transportation Division of the Air Force’s Air Mobility Command, “eligibility is not extended to dependent family members of veterans.” 

In other words, family members—who may be caregivers to veterans with a 100 percent VA disability rating—can’t travel with their loved ones. 

But that restriction is not found on Air Mobility Command’s website. 

READ MORE: 5 things veterans need to know about flying space-A

When asked what he should do about the restriction of dependents, officials at Joint-Base Lewis-McChord AMC terminal told Kevin to “call your Congressman.”

Lanna Britt— whose husband is a 100 percent disabled Army veteran— and advocate of expanding Space-A flights , says the “spirit" of the original intent isn't being followed.

Photo Courtesy of Lanna Britt

That’s because the benefit, included in the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), is based on a bill authored by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.). 

In that bill, the travel benefit would apply to vets with a 100 percent disability rating, mirroring the eligibility for military retirees. In other words, the intent of Bilirakis' bill is to extend military Space-A travel eligibility for both these veterans, and their dependents. 

U.S. Air Force Capt. Kenneth Hicks, a spokesman for Air Mobiltiy Command, said the NDAA "drove changes" to DoD instructions governing Space-A travel. "Eligibility does not extend to dependents of disabled veterans," said Hicks. As a consequence, eligible veterans must travel alone when choosing to fly Space-A. 

"Air Mobility Command is in the process of updating our Space A travel website to assist future passengers in understanding changes to the Space A eligibility criteria."

Under current regulations, dependents of active duty and retired military personnel are eligible to travel both stateside and around the world, given there is room on an already scheduled military flight. 

When Britt contacted the Senate Armed Services Committee to advocate for the measure, a committee staffer told her the provision was passed in this year’s National Defense Authorization Act. 

The staffer added that the Senate “overwhelmingly passed the legislation 87-10.” But the section that was included in the 2019 NDAA, which President Trump signed into law last week, includes language not found in the original bill that the DoD is interpreting to restrict dependents. 

Their guidance also limits flights to CONUS, or stateside, only. 

“It’s totally ridiculous,” says Britt. “There should be no limit to CONUS and dependents should be allowed to fly. Plus it’s idiotic that for 100 percent veterans a theoretical care-giving spouse wouldn’t be allowed to fly with the disabled veteran.”

As Britt sees it, the intent of the bill isn’t being followed. 

In an email to Connecting Vets, spokeswoman for Bilirakis Summer Robertson, said, “It was always the Congressman’s intention that the Veterans’ dependent would also be eligible to fly Space-A and, in fact, included specific language in his bill to ensure that would be the case.”

She said that the Senate “amended the original version which gave the DoD flexibility in its interpretation,” and added Bilirakis is “disappointed to hear that the DoD is interpreting the law in this way, as to exclude dependents.” 

“Congressman Bilirakis plans on sharing his concerns with DoD leadership and ask that they reverse course and use their discretion in a way that benefits our veterans, and their families.” 

There's also companion legislation in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), ranking member on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. "Expanding Space-A travel to these veterans and their loved ones is simply the right thing to do, and they should not be denied benefits that are already made available to retired service members," Tester told Connecting Vets. 

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