April 19, 2016

Hirono Measure To Give Disabled Veterans Additional Paid Leave Passed By Senate

Measure Included In Comprehensive FAA Reauthorization That Benefits Consumers, National Security

Senator Mazie K. Hirono voted today in support of H.R. 636, a bill to renew and reform the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and U.S. aviation law through September 30, 2017. The FAA Reauthorization Act, which passed the Senate 95-3, includes a bipartisan measure authored by Senator Hirono and Senator Deb Fischer (R-NE), which puts veterans hired by the FAA and Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on par with other veterans working for the federal government in receiving sick leave for medical care. 

“The FAA reauthorization is a bipartisan compromise that provides funding stability to an agency that is critical to our nation, and especially important for those of us in Hawaii who rely on air travel,” said Senator Hirono. “This legislation increases passenger protections, bolsters safety measures in planes and airports, and includes my proposal to remove barriers that currently force veterans who work for the FAA and TSA to take unpaid leave to seek critical medical care. I urge my colleagues in the House of Representatives to continue our work and see this measure through before July 15, when the FAA will face a potential shutdown.”

The Hirono-Fischer measure allows veterans with a disability rating of 30% or higher who are hired by the FAA or TSA to access additional paid sick leave during their first year on the job for the purposes of receiving medical care related to their service-connected condition. Currently, thirty-seven percent of the FAA’s 41,000 employees nationally are veterans, which is approximately the same percentage among FAA employees in Hawaii. The TSA employs over 59,000 across the country including over 1,200 in Hawaii with veterans forming over 10% of the local TSA workforce. Hawaii is home to more than 30,000 total federal employees, as well as 12,000 veterans with a disability rating of 30% or higher.

In 2015, Congress enacted a law that makes up to 104 hours of paid sick leave available to newly hired veteran federal employees with service-connected conditions rated 30% or higher. However, since certain federal personnel policies do not automatically apply to the FAA and the TSA, the additional sick leave created by the new law will not apply to new FAA employees without a legislative change. The bipartisan Hirono-Fischer measure ensures that new disabled veteran employees at the FAA and TSA have access to the sick leave benefit that their counterparts in other agencies receive.

The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), Paralyzed Veterans of America, Reserve Officers Association, American Federation of Government Employees, Federal Managers Association, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, National Air Traffic Controllers Association, Professional Aviation Safety Specialists, and VetsFirst, a program of the United Spinal Association, support the Hirono-Fischer measure.

“The VFW supported the Wounded Warrior Federal Leave Act of 2015, but strongly believes that veterans who work for the FAA and TSA should receive the same protections as other federal employees.  Senator Hirono’s amendment fixes that problem, and we thank her for her leadership on this issue,” said Ray Kelley, VFW National Legislative Director.

H.R. 636 also:

Mandates that airlines provide automatic baggage fee refunds if baggage does not arrive 6 hours after domestic flights and 12 hours after international flights.

Calls for $400 million in increased funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP). Last year, Hawaii received more than $29 million in AIP funding, which goes toward improving critical infrastructure.

Increases funding for the Essential Air Service (EAS) Program by $5 million. EAS subsidies ensure continued flights from Molokai’s Kalaupapa airport and other rural communities across the country.

Expands the TSA’s PreCheck program.

Prioritizes security teams that patrol in airports across the United States.