Federal air marshals are suffering from a range of health issues as a result of brutal schedules imposed by the Federal Air Marshal Service and TSA.
According to CNN
, at least 10 federal air marshals have committed suicide since 2002, mainly due to stress, while many are sleep-deprived, medicated, under the influence of alcohol, or worse.
The problem appears to stem from imposed schedules that are physically impossible to carry out without compromising one's health, CNN said.
A typical assignment would include
three to four domestic flights a day, or quick turns on overnight international flights.
"Now do that 14, 15, 16 hours a day. Anybody's patience, anybody's ability to function at the highest level is going to be compromised," said Sonya Hightower, a recently retired federal air marshal and an officer with the newly formed Air Marshal Association, according to CNN.
And when flights get delayed, so too does an air marshal's sleep.
"I believe that the culture the agency's developed here is mind-numbing, toxic," said John Casaretti, a senior federal air marshal and president of the Air Marshal Association, according to CNN.
According to evidence gathered by the government, armed air marshals are so sleep deprived that it could affect their ability to stop a terrorist attack, CNN said.
In one study, conducted by the Division of Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital at Harvard Medical School, 75 percent of air marshals flying domestic missions were sleep-deprived. On international jobs, the figure was over 84 percent.
It also found that half of federal air marshals take some medication or supplement to get to sleep, while others use alcohol.
"The acute and chronic lack of sleep substantially degrades a Federal Air Marshal's ability to react and think quickly," the study concluded, according to CNN.
Hightower said that the Department of Homeland Security has been trying to hide the results of the study.
"Air marshals are exhausted," she told CNN. "They are having memory loss, they are being forgetful. At some point, they are working long enough hours that they are legally intoxicated ... they can't move. They can't respond fast to things. And the agency was not prepared for someone to document that as well as Harvard did in their study."
The study was sent to the Federal Air Marshal Service workforce but classified as sensitive and therefore unable to be distributed.
But the agency insisted that it provides the necessary support to protect the safety of air marshals.
"The health and welfare of every man and woman who serves in the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) is TSA's highest priority. TSA is committed to providing them with the resources and support they need to carry out their mission, and any loss of life is unacceptable," said Federal Air Marshal Service director Roderick Allison in a statement to CNN.
"As part of our efforts, FAMS maintains a robust system of both medical, including mandatory physicals, and psychological assistance programs which are readily available to the workforce and their families. The FAMS Medical Programs Section is staffed with a physician and other full time medical professionals who are available to FAMS personnel 24/7 and upon request."
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