Amid ongoing efforts to bring thousands of aging veterans to visit the nation’s capital in 2022, supporters of the Honor Flight Network are asking administration officials to resume police escorts for memorial visits to ensure the safety of everyone involved.
Since 2005, Honor Flight officials have helped more than 240,000 veterans from across the country visit Washington, D.C., for an opportunity to tour the war memorials and national landmarks there.
In many cases, the veterans are elderly and in poor health, and only able to make the trip because of special medical and financial assistance provided by the group.
The group’s activities largely were shuttered by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but have picked up again in recent months. Officials are planning a major event on the National Mall in May to coincide with the 250,000th veteran visit in group history.
However, recent operations have been complicated by a lack of Park Police escorts for tour buses visiting the memorials.
Many areas of the National Mall — particularly around the World War II memorial and Vietnam War Memorial Wall — have limited parking, making it difficult for veterans in wheelchairs to access the areas.
Fifteen House Republicans sent a letter to Department of Interior leaders asking for U.S. Park Police officials reinstate “vehicular escort services” for the upcoming events, and for more information on why they were stopped.
Democratic lawmakers have made similar inquiries in recent months, looking for ways to resume the escorts and concerned about the lack of cooperation from the department.
“Honor Flight has had a long-standing hand-shake agreement with the Park Police to provide police escorts for the Honor Flights and veterans visiting the memorials raised in their honor,” said Matthew Shuman, chairman of Honor Flight’s board of directors.
“These police escorts provide safety for the veterans, many physically disabled, and ensure they have the ability and time to visit the memorials, reflect upon their service and the sacrifices of their fellow brother and sister veterans. Without them, veterans face a reduced time at the memorials, and in a less safe environment, amongst the hustle and bustle of our nation’s capital.”
But Park Police officials have informed the group that they can’t provide escorts for future events without permission from senior administration leadership.
Secretary Deb Haaland “is deeply committed to honoring the sacrifices that veterans and their families make,” Giovanni Rocco, Interior Department deputy press secretary, said in a statement to Military Times.
But he did not provide any new details or clarification on why the Park Police escorts were stopped.
Park Police officials did not respond to requests for comment.
Republican lawmakers said the Honor Flight trips represent “a once in a lifetime experience for some veterans.”
They’re pushing for an answer to the escort request as soon as possible, to ensure preparations are complete before the upcoming May event.
Shuman said his group has reimbursed Park Police staff in the past for the escorts, which help provide safe loading and unloading areas for veterans around the war memorials.
“Honor Flight is incredibly thankful for the many Park Police officers who love escorting and helping veterans,” he said. “We simply need their continued support to honor these American heroes.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.