Second-hand honor: Could donated military uniforms lead to cases of stolen valor?

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - When is the last time you browsed through an area thrift store? Do you remember casually perusing past racks full of donated military clothing and uniforms? You likely never gave it a second thought, but Friday WHNT News 19 got an email from a young man with a serious concern. He emailed our newsroom wondering if second-hand military items could lead to cases of stolen valor. So we decided to Take Action to delve into the potential issue a little further.

"I'm walking through the thrift store just looking for a jacket and I see three fully intact military uniforms," said 17-year-old Chris Gallardoabreu. "So I go over there and check them out and get a closer look and I actually find that they still have ranks on them; the Navy one that is pictured still has an officer rank on it. Special identification patches; Airborne, Paratrooper, flight wings," he remembers.

The discovery immediately rubbed Chris the wrong way. He found himself asking if people could take advantage of the easily accessible and affordable military garb.

"They're full uniforms," Chris scoffs. "With all the stolen valor stuff going around, it's easy; somebody can walk in, pay $5 or $10 and walk out with a uniform."

So, is donating used military clothing with patches intact disrespectful or even unpatriotic? Chris thinks so. The military academy graduate has started his paramedic degree through Job Corps and plans to enlist in the Army next week to become a combat medic.

"People work so hard to earn those patches, I mean, I'm 5th generation military, my grandfather spent 20 years as an officer -- and then you can just go into a thrift store and purchase the uniform with the patch already on it? And I asked them about it and they said they can't really do anything about it."

We learned donating military uniforms is a common practice. We found uniforms in four of the five Huntsville thrift stores we visited -- only some with patches removed.

Chris says he worries about imposters.

"Someone could just purchase the uniform and walk in to any store and get a discount or getting praise that he or she doesn't deserve to get," Gallardoabreu says.

His advice for those no longer in need of military-issued uniforms?

"If you're going to donate uniforms to the thrift store, go ahead," Chris says. "But just make sure you take off those patches because your family member, your loved one, your friend whoever the uniform belonged to, they worked hard to get that patch -- that patch shouldn't just be handed out like it's just a logo on a T-shirt."

The Department of Defense issued a 'Disposition Policy for U.S. Military Combat Uniforms' in 2008. The DOD takes certain new and like-new uniforms and repurposes them if you would like to donate back to your military branch. Some of the uniforms on the list have infrared patches and built-in technology, and the branches would like to ensure the safety of any information they may contain. Check the policy for any uniforms you may own and follow the directives accordingly.

Chris Gallardoabreu says he plans to start a Facebook page and Twitter account to disseminate information and raise awareness on the issue of donated military uniforms.

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