The Biden administration has ended the practice of providing police escorts to veterans visiting the nation’s capital as part of the Honor Flight network.
Now, more than 70 members of Congress have joined an effort led largely by Florida Republicans to convince the Interior Department to reinstate the escorts.
Honor Flight is a privately funded, national organization that brings aging military veterans to Washington for a one-day trip to see prominent sites, such as Arlington National Cemetery and the World War II Memorial. Originally, it was intended for World War II vets.
But as they fade from the scene, it now takes on more Korean and Vietnam war vets.
Overall, Honor Flight has taken nearly 250,000 vets on such trips. They were suspended during COVID-19, but now are starting to gear up again. Florida is one of the most active states participating in the program.
A month ago, 15 members of Congress from Florida – 14 Republicans and one Democrat – wrote upon learning that the U.S. Park Police would no longer escort the vets.
The lawmakers noted that Honor Flight compensates the USPP for its cost. The service is vital because it allows the Honor Flight passengers to navigate DC traffic more easily and gives more time in an already tight schedule to each stop.
Still, the lawmakers said they were told the escorts had been abandoned because the Interior Department had not given the USPP explicit permission to accompany the vets.
In the letter, they said this was “very concerning and disappointing,” as it adversely affects a “once in a lifetime experience” for many veterans. “The escort service is critical to ensuring the veterans participating in the Honor Flight trip receive the full experience they have earned,” the lawmakers wrote.
They asked Haaland to explain what needed to be done to resume the escorts. But a month later and the issue remains.
In a follow-up letter on April 11, now signed by 76 lawmakers, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the veterans’ advocates note the escorts still have not been authorized.
“Our brave veterans have made tremendous sacrifices to secure the freedoms we enjoy today. As a nation, we owe it to our heroes to give them the utmost honor and privilege that they deserve on their Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.,” the newest letter said.
Veterans, including some who are terminally ill, “visit – many for the first time – the very war memorials dedicated to their service to our country. During these trips, veterans share memories and accounts from their time in service, pay tribute to their lost comrades, and build important bonds with fellow participants.”
“In order to accomplish this worthy vision, it is imperative that DOI provide USPP vehicular escort services to Honor Flight Hubs slated to arrive this spring. The escort services play a critical logistical role in ensuring these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities run smoothly and safely as Hubs navigate the busy National Mall,” they added.
“It is imperative that veterans – particularly those with physical disabilities – have the necessary parking access to ensure ease of entry to each war memorial to get the full experience they have earned,” the lawmakers’ correspondence concluded.
“As a country, we have asked much of our men and women in uniform. Time and again, they answered the call. We request that you grant Honor Flight Hubs the necessary vehicular escorts our veterans have clearly earned.”