Almost everyone has probably met this guy. The one who, while on his 24th deployment to Afghanistan (with either Special Forces or the Rangers, it always changes) would have single handedly killed Osama bin Laden with nothing but his battle tomahawk, except for the fact that he fell and broke both of his legs saving a bus full of orphans that had been set on fire by insurgents as a distraction method. Most of the time, these outlandish claims produce eye rolls from the combat vets that are around, perhaps a joke or two is made at their expense, and they are soundly ignored.
What if the claims that were made were more subdued or plausible and the storyteller also wore a Purple Heart or Bronze Star to validate their tales? What if communities honored them with celebrations, they were hailed as heroes, and were perhaps awarded monetary compensation, vacations, or employment opportunities based solely on their heroism and service to our country? A debate is raging right now on whether you have the right to lie about your military service, and it tiptoes down the very fine line of the First Amendment.
Stolen Valor Act of 2005
The Stolen Valor Act of 2005, which was actually passed into law in 2006, is summarized as follows:
Stolen Valor Act of 2005 – Amends the federal criminal code to expand the prohibition against wearing, manufacturing, or selling military decorations or medals without legal authorization to prohibit purchasing, soliciting, mailing, shipping, importing, exporting, producing blank certificates of receipt for, advertising, trading, bartering, or exchanging such decorations or medals without authorization.
Prohibits falsely representing oneself as having been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces or any of the service medals or badges.
Increases penalties for violations if the offense involves a distinguished service cross, an Air Force Cross, a Navy Cross, a silver star, or a Purple Heart.
Cases and Causes
Although there are innumerable cases out there of people claiming stolen valor, perhaps one of the biggest scams to have come to light is that of the case of 68 year old Warren K. Parker. From Veterans Today: “The indictment alleges that in documents submitted to the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs in support of Silver Star Construction, LLC in connection with contracts under the Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business Program, he falsely claimed to have reached the rank of major in the U.S. Army, completed three tours in Vietnam, to have been awarded three Silver Stars, the Legion of Merit, four Bronze Stars with Valor, eleven Air Medals with Valor (claiming 300 hours of combat air time), three Purple Heart Medals, a Presidential Citation, a U.S. Army Citation, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Vietnam Service Medal with (79) Battle Stars and to have been Awarded over (32) Citations for Heroism.”
The reality is that he never left Missouri during his time in service. Those contracts should have been awarded to a truly disabled service veteran, not to someone who just had their eye on the almighty dollar.
Perhaps one of the most famous cases is that of Xavier Alvarez, who was originally convicted under the Stolen Valor Act for claiming to be a Marine and that he had been awarded the Medal of Honor. Both claims turned out to be false. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturned this ruling, saying that it was unconstitutional and violated the rights of freedom of speech. Despicable though his actions may be, more cases may follow this same ruling, as freedom is speech is a massively grey area in justice. Congressman Joe Heck may be trying to narrow this gap to ensure more convictions by introducing the Stolen Valor Act of 2011, which criminalizes the act of benefitting by claiming stolen valor. A full copy of the Stolen Valor Act of 2011 can be found here.
If you think someone is claiming stolen valor, there are numerous ways for you to report it. ReportStolenValor.org has links to report to the FBI, various military branches, and the media. As my husband and favorite combat veteran said to me today: “My personal take on these “heroes”, specifically the ones who use their “veteran status” in a public forum, is that they steal the innocence from the children who look up to them for their bravery; the trust from their peers who admire the courage and willingness to do what they could not; the respect from elders who understand hardships in life and sacrifices that have to be made in order to be successful; and the pride of a true veteran who expects them to understand courage that it takes to put a uniform on and walk into a situation that the average person would turn away from. All of the aforementioned may never grow to trust a Soldier, Sailor, Airman, or Marine again and feel the need to question every act – no matter how minute – that other veterans may have or ever will accomplish.”
Those claiming these accolades and awards are taking away from those who have truly served and sacrificed for our country, and should be reported, investigated, and punished, especially if their lies are benefitting them instead of someone who truly deserves it.