Dogs can be a calming influence, and some military veterans in Albuquerque, New Mexico, found that out firsthand through a partnership between TSA and the New Mexico-based Paws and Stripes program.
Six veterans and four dogs went through the checkpoint screening process at Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ). Using rescue dogs and saving lives “two at a time,” Paws and Stripes provides opportunities like this for veterans with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injuries. Most of the veterans had not traveled by air in years, and the airport setting was brand new for the dogs.
During the checkpoint screening practice, TSA ABQ opened a dedicated lane to the veterans and their dogs. “This took away a lot of anxiety they were feeling about traveling by air again,” said Maggie Santiago, customer support and stakeholder manager for New Mexico. “The veterans and their four-legged companions were given multiple opportunities to be screened, ask questions, and talk with TSA officers about their specific challenges, making it a learning experience for officers and vets.”
Through Paws and Stripes, veterans with PTSD or traumatic brain injuries go through a nine- to 12-month program, and for the last two years at Paws and Stripes workshops, Santiago has led discussions on “screening passengers with medical and other special needs/screening of service animals.”
“The presentations are in preparation for the practice runs at the checkpoint,” said Santiago. “Two TSA officers accompanied me to demonstrate our processes and field questions from the vets. Some of the vets now have fully trained service dogs that are ready for the airport visits.”
Assistant Federal Screening Director for Screening Jackie Mixon-Johnson, a military veteran, fully supported the effort, saying, “We welcome the opportunity to provide this valuable training to members of our community and, in particular, to those who have given so much to our country.”
At a recent Paws and Stripes workshop, Santiago discussed the TSA Cares program and encouraged the veterans to use this resource. TSA Cares offers travelers with disabilities and medical conditions a toll-free hotline number if they have questions about screening policies, procedures, and what to expect at the checkpoint.
“We are very grateful to TSA New Mexico for devoting time to this effort and allowing our clients to practice something they may not ordinarily have the opportunity to do before flying,” said Jessie Johnson, coordinator of the Paws and Stripes program. “Receiving hands-on training will make all the difference in helping reduce anxiety levels for both human and animal when they do travel.”