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TSA apologizes for searching elderly women

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Transportation Security Administration has acknowledged that its agents violated procedures by inspecting an elderly woman's colostomy bag and screening another's back brace, and expressed regret, according to a letter released on Wednesday.

The agency, which handles security screenings at U.S. airports, denied claims that the two elderly women were strip searched at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport during the busy Thanksgiving travel holiday in November.

The women, Ruth Sherman, 88, of Sunrise, Florida, and Lenore Zimmerman, 85, of Long Beach, New York, had complained that they were strip searched by agents.

"TSA sincerely regrets any discomfort or inconveniences the passengers at JFK experienced," Transportation Security Administration (TSA) Assistant Secretary Betsy Markey wrote to New York state Senator Michael Gianaris, who pressed the agency on the passengers' behalf.

Gianaris shared the letter with Reuters on Wednesday.

Agents at JFK will receive refresher training "on how to respectfully and safely screen passengers with disabilities or medical conditions to ensure all proper procedures are followed," Markey said in the letter.

Gianaris had written to the TSA, urging an investigation. In response, Markey said in the letter that an investigation showed that TSA employees had put a back brace worn by Zimmerman through an X-ray machine.

"It is not standard procedure for TSOs to screen back braces through the X-ray, and TSA apologizes for this employee's action," said the letter.

TSA agents visually inspected a colostomy bag worn by Zimmerman, the letter said, which also is not standard operating procedure. At no point was either passenger asked to remove any clothing, the letter said.

(Reporting By Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Daniel Trotta and Will Dunham)

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