BATTLE CREEK, Mich. –
Half of all U.S. states have requested excess military medical supplies and equipment from the Defense Logistics Agency since the national pandemic response began in March.
The agency has funneled the supplies, originally worth over $4.5 million, to qualified state agencies from DLA Disposition Services sites where military units relinquish taxpayer-purchased property they no longer need. By mid-June, states had made about 1,300 requests for 1.5 million medical items, including vital signs monitors, anesthesia machines, gloves, gowns and surgical drapes.
“Some states will typically pull material only from their regional [disposition] sites,” while others request items from distant locations, said Property Disposal Specialist Cassie Gilbert, a 20-year agency employee who supports state customers. She said items DLA donates to the states are free apart from shipping costs.
Tennessee is one of several states to increasingly rely on DLA excess property, Gilbert added. Officials there requested over 450 individual medical items during the pandemic, including defibrillators, monitors, beds, stretchers, masks, and surgical bandages and tape. The items came from 17 surplus property sites in 14 states as far away as Alaska.
State officials’ exposure to military surplus can depend on base proximity. Those with few or no major installations may not factor federal excess property into contingency planning compared to those with a large military presence. Idaho, for example, requested various medical supplies and equipment from DLA for its coronavirus response but sourced requests only from a large disposal site at Hill Air Force Base in adjacent Utah. However, Texas, which has multiple major bases, requested a galaxy of used and excess medical items during the pandemic. Officials there received blankets, surgical drapes, pulse oximeters, various mask types, resuscitators and much more.
“They are a huge operation,” Gilbert said of the Texas surplus agency. “They travel around and pick up property nationwide on a regular basis.”
DLA Disposition Services employees strive to provide accurate property descriptions and quickly process equipment requests. Despite stringent safety guidelines at field locations and work being done remotely due to the pandemic, DLA has also provided an additional $6 million in non-medical equipment since March, bringing its total in equipment donations to $10 million.
Kaelene Borkowski, who oversees surplus property requests for South Dakota, said the program enables small communities and eligible non-profit organizations to save money while acquiring items that otherwise wouldn’t be available.
“An example that comes to mind is the large military snow blowers that we have been able to provide to the Department of Transportation. They currently have several that are used across the state and still have a need for additional units to get the job done during the major snowstorms we’ve been experiencing,” she added.
South Dakota officials recently acquired scarce, high-demand medical items like masks, gloves, thermometers and protective clothing.
“Our counties, cities, hospitals, and Department of Health are a few of the programs that quickly grabbed onto those items and asked for more,” Borkowski said. “It makes sense that this equipment and other personal property items, originally paid for by taxpayers, should go back to help their communities when the federal government no longer needs them. When we use our resources to build local communities, everyone wins.”
More stories from state officials on benefits of the excess property program are available in the National Association of State Agencies for Surplus Property’s quarterly newsletter at www.nasasp.org.