Equal Access to Air Travel for All Service-Connected Disabled Veterans Rated as Total (S. 116) (H.R. 936)

The Space Available Program unjustly denies some service-connected disabled veterans rated as total the opportunity to participate.

Veterans who became service-connected disabled prior to September 14, 1978, and had not accrued eight years of service time are not permitted to use the no-cost Space Available Program.

The Space Available Program allows six priority categories of individuals, with the highest priority being active duty military and the lowest priority being retired armed services members, to travel on military flights if space is available.[1] On September 14, 1978, Congress changed the eligibility requirements for service-connected disabled veterans going forward. In contrast, for veterans who served prior to that date at least eight years of accrued service is still required to qualify for the Space Available Program. This means that service-connected disabled veterans who had not acquired eight years of service prior to September 14, 1978, namely many disabled veterans who served in Vietnam, are not eligible for the program.

Military aircraft are already equipped to accommodate passengers with disabilities.

Many Space Available travelers have disabilities, including veterans who became disabled after their service, and according to the AMC Space-Available Handbook & FAQ’s, “Every effort shall be made to transport passengers with disabilities who are otherwise eligible to travel.”[2] Therefore, allowing service-connected disabled veterans the opportunity to travel on military flights if space is available will not cause any new burden to the no-cost program.[3] In fact, from 2009 through 2011, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) determined that 90-95% of the Space Available seats are on chartered commercial flights, which would have all of the accessibility features of any other commercial flight.[4]

There is space available in the Space Available Program.

According to the GAO, as of 2011, there were a total of 8,434,783 individuals eligible for the Space Available Program; however, only 2.3% of these individuals actually used the program occupying only 77.3% of the available seats.[5] There were 57,000 unused seats in 2011. There is plenty of space available to honor all service-connected disabled veterans.

The National Defense Authorization Act provides an excellent means to achieve the goal of this bill.

In a letter dated November 3, 2015, and in a follow up email dated March 15, 2016, Bob Dole, a decorated World War II veteran and longtime Senate majority leader, urged Senator John McCain, Chairman of the US Senate Committee on Armed Services, to incorporate this bill into the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Indeed, the House of Representatives’ version of NDAA for fiscal years 2014 and 2015 included similar language (Section 1046).

Equal Access to Air Travel for Service-Connected Disabled Veterans Rated as Total:

Provides travel privileges to all service-connected disabled Vietnam veterans (along with other eligible service-connected disabled veterans).

This bill amends Title 10 of the United States Code to permit veterans who have a service-connected, permanent disability rated as total to travel on military flights in the same manner and to the same extent as retired members of the armed forces.


To cosponsor S. 116 in the Senate, contact:

Scarlet Doyle, Legislative Assistant, Office of Senator Dean Heller (R-NV)

Phone: (202) 224-6244, Email: scarlet_doyle@heller.senate.gov

To cosponsor H.R. 936 in the House of Representatives, contact:

Joe Millado, Senior Policy Advisor, Office of Congressman Gus Bilirakis (R-FL)

Phone: (202) 225-5755, Email: Joe.Millado@mail.house.gov

For more information, contact:

Dylan Hedtler-Gaudette, Government Affairs Specialist, National Federation of the Blind

Phone: (410) 659-9314, Extension 2210, Email: dhedtler-gaudette@nfb.org

“Brave soldiers made the same sacrifices as their fellow veterans, and their disabilities are a direct result of combat or its aftermath. I believe they should be able to participate in the Space Available program.” – Bob Dole’s Letter to Senator McCain, November 3, 2015

[i] DoD, 4515.13-R, “Air Transportation Eligibility,” Table 4, January 22, 2016, http://www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/corres/pdf/451513p.pdf.

[ii] Air Mobility Command. “AMC Space-Available Handbook & FAQ’s.” Last modified September 17, 2013. http://www.amc.af.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-130917-139.pdf.

[iii] 10 U.S.C. § 2641b(b)(1-2) “(1) The Secretary of Defense shall operate the travel program in a budget-neutral manner. (2) No additional funds may be used, or flight hours performed, for the purpose of providing transportation under the travel program.”

[iv] GAO, GAO-12-924R.

[v] GAO supra, note 6.