Sunday, November 21, 2010
Philadelphia, PA -
When Walter Deever of Houtzdale, PA checked in for his flight last week out of Pittsburgh International Airport, he never expected to have his life saved. Ask him today, and he'll tell you that's exactly what happened. Thanks to the new enhanced pat-downs being enforced by the TSA, he may very well have averted a personal crisis.
As Deever, age 29, explained, “Of course, like most people, I was a little uncomfortable with the thought of being fondled by a stranger. But this time I was lucky. My TSA agent happened to feel something “down there” that wasn't normal.” In fact, TSA agent John Courtwright, had detected what later turned out to be a precancerous testicular mass. As Deever put it,” It feels really good to know that these people are going above and beyond the call of duty to protect Americans from terrorists both from without, and from within our own bodies.”
This is not an isolated incident either. Gladys McFadden of Sugar City, ID learned of an abnormal breast mass on November 13th, while receiving her pat down. “I was so relieved,” said the 67 year old McFadden. “It has been several years since I had been in to see my doctor for my routine health screening. I'm glad to know that the TSA is looking out for me.” In fact, McFadden has become close friends with TSA agent Shirley Atterbury since the incident, and Atterbury plans on visiting her in the hospital next week, after her mastectomy.
TSA chief John Pistole confirms that using both the full body scanners and the enhanced pat-downs, at least 32 tumors have been identified by TSA agents giving that “little bit extra” to a job that is usually thankless. “I am very proud of the way our agents have handled themselves and their passengers over the last several weeks. The easy thing to do would be to back down in the face of all this criticism, but we do what's right, not what's easy.”
With regard to the health benefits some travelers have been receiving, Pistole is not surprised. “Overall, I’m very satisfied. This is what we anticipated. In fact, as more and more of the health reform law comes to light, I think you will see a much expanded role of the TSA in national health care.”
Health and Human Services director, Kathleen Sebelius, agrees. “The TSA is the natural replacement for the primary care physician in the evolution of health care in the US. After all, close to 50% of Americans will travel by plane this year, only half that many will visit their doctor. It makes sense to combine travel with health screening. By doing routine health screening at TSA stations, the cost would be included in the price of the ticket. This will allow us to take billions of dollars of federal money that otherwise would be spent on health care and allows us to redirect that money to special projects and “earmarks” that help get our congressmen re-elected.”
While both HHS and TSA officials are very pleased with the early results, most will admit that such early success has been more luck than science. “We are very proud of our agents who have taken the initiative so far, but I believe the real impressive numbers will begin to be seen sometime next summer, after we begin our Cancer Screening for Law Enforcement classes”, commented Pistole. Beginning spring of 2011, all TSA agents will be required to complete the 3-day course put together by the United States Preventative Services Task Force.
“By year’s end, we hope to be providing complete breast and testicular cancer screening in all airports and have at least 50% of facilities capable of providing skin and prostate cancer screening as well.” By 2014 it is hoped that all of these services as well as pap smears and colon cancer screening with flexible sigmoidoscopy will be provided routinely at all airports. Depending on the success of the program, the TSA may be expanded to provide services at subway and train stations as well as sporting events, theme parks and concerts.
Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, remains very positive about the upcoming changes. “We want to see the government involved in the lives of everyone in this country. Our goal is that every American receive both security and basic health screening. It may begin with travel security at the airport, but we won’t stop until we can provide the same level of care for every citizen whether they travel or not.”