Clothing left at airport security checkpoints to go to veterans

August 4, 2013

Recently, 180 pounds of clothes were boxed up and given to the Vietnam Veterans of America. The provider? Maybe you.

Under the Clothe a Homeless Hero Act, the Transportation Security Administration has begun donating clothing forgotten at airport security checkpoints to local veterans’ organizations and charities.

On Thursday, Reagan National Airport joined other airports in the nationwide effort, packing two months’ worth of discarded clothing into trucks headed to VVA distribution centers. Before the act was signed into law, forgotten clothing was either donated for police-dog scent training or discarded.

“Now we’re going to be segregating clothing at our lost-and-found office,” said Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority spokesman Rob Yingling. “If it’s coming from the checkpoint, it’s going to the veterans. If it’s lost elsewhere in the airport, it’ll go to the canines.”

At National Airport, clothes are forgotten at a rate of “hundreds of pounds a year,” Yingling said. Everything from discarded outerwear to full suitcases is left behind. Each airport has its own lost-and-found system. Depending on the state, unclaimed items that are not clothing often are picked up by government-
surplus agencies and liquidated on Web sites such as GovDeals.com, said TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein. Now, airports will donate clothing to local veterans’ organizations in accordance with their lost-and-found policies.

The Clothe a Homeless Hero Act was introduced last summer by Rep. Kathy Hochul (D-N.Y.), who said the legislation was doubly inspired by veterans she met in Afghanistan and a room full of discarded clothing at the airport in Buffalo, where she hunted down a scarf she had forgotten in a security bin a week before.

The bill was approved by Congress in late 2012, and President Obama signed it in January, days before he began his second term.

In March, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), one of two female combat veterans in Congress, introduced legislation to ease airport screening procedures for soldiers and veterans who are wounded or disabled.

Sharon Hodge, VVA’s associate director of government affairs, noted that national airports already expedite screening for vets. Gabbard’s effort “would mandate that every airport complies.”

Supporting veterans in every way possible is a priority for Hodge. Working on the first clothing collection for veterans Thursday was emotional, she said.

Hodge added: “It’s the first time I’ve seen congressional law benefit the individuals it was intended for.”

Ruth Tam is a writer based in Washington, D.C. Follow her on Twitter: @ruthetam.
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