The TSA is looking for contractors to build new databases to help screen airline passengers. They want to include information about military personnel from Department of Defense (DoD) files and veterans from Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) files.
According to the TSA, heres what they want: Examples of new data sources would be DoD files for military service histories or VA files for lists of persons who have been declared mental defectives.
The story was first reported by Jacob Goodwin in Government Security News. Jeff Stein, National Security Editor of Congressional Quarterly, followed with an article and then was interviewed on National Public Radios Talk of the Nation.
But, this next step of looking for mental defectives in military and veterans records presents multiple problems. Who is a mentally defective? If a person has had mental health issues, what criteria would the TSA use in blocking access to a commercial airline flights? What level of mental health problems would kick a person onto the TSAs Watch List? And, who would have access to the medical records of millions of military service members and veterans?
Of special interest to military personnel and veterans is the issue of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Would troops and veterans diagnosed with PTSD be stopped at the gate by the TSA? Various studies indicate that anywhere from ten per cent to 30 per cent of troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from some symptoms of PTSD. And, add at least 100,000 Vietnam-era veterans and many more from the Gulf War.
Although the use of these types of discharge codes was done away with in 1974, they still exist on many veterans records. And, the true meaning of the codes is well-known and often prevents a veteran from getting gainful employment.
Officially, the DoD and the VA do not have a category labeled mental defective to designate a medical condition. But, the term mental defective is used widely by the government. A mental defective cannot get a gun permit from The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF). Here is the ATFs definition of mental defective -- A determination by a court, board, commission, or other lawful authority that a person, as a result of marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness, incompetency, condition, or disease: (1) Is a danger to himself or to others; or (2) Lacks the mental capacity to contract or manage his own affairs. The term shall include a finding of insanity by a court in a criminal case.
Will PTSD make a person a mental defective? How about a Personality Disorder, Unspecified? Or some anger management issues or even a divorce?
The concept of the TSA using the above definition of mental defective is so sad and frightening that it is almost laughable. When I posted this story on my web site, one veteran emailed and said, If Im rated at just 50 per cent for PTSD, what do I have to leave at home to make sure I can get on the plane?
Today, access to military and VA records is carefully controlled. Soldiers and veterans have been fairly comfortable about the security of their medical records. That appears to be changing.
Im sure there will be moves to stop the TSA from digging into medical records. Civil rights groups and veterans service organizations will lead the way. But, this move by the TSA will be done in the name of National Security. And, we now know that anything can be done in the name of National Security since President Bush has admitted to ordering domestic spying. The DoD and the VA will find themselves in the situation of having to comply with the TSAs request for medical information.
The TSA said, in their sources sought inquiry, that they are looking for two new data sources every year. What are the next two data sources? Civilian medical records could be one of those. Again, in the name of national security, healthcare providers might have to hand over medical records of private citizens to be added to the TSAs database.