The practice of embellishing one’s military record for personal gain became so prevalent the U.S. Congress felt the need to pass a law to punish those who would try such a thing.
The Stolen Valor Act of 2013 was signed into law by President Barack Obama on June 3 of that year.
The law makes it a federal crime for anyone to pass themselves off as war heroes by wearing medals they didn’t rightfully earn.
An earlier version was passed in 2005, but was ruled unconstitutional when the Supreme Court made a ruling that lying about military heroics was constitutionally protected free speech unless there was an intent to gain or profit by perpetuating a fraud.
Congress amended the federal criminal code which now makes fraudulent claims about military service subject to a fine, imprisonment for not more than one year or both for an individual “who with intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit, fraudulently holds himself or herself out to be a recipient of: a Medal of Honor, a Distinguished Service Cross, a Navy Cross, an Air Force Cross, a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, a Combat Infantryman's Badge, a Combat Action Badge, a Combat Medical Badge, a Combat Action Ribbon, a Combat Action Medal, or any replacement or duplicate medal for such medal as authorized by law.”
The law also states: “Whoever falsely represents himself or herself, verbally or in writing, to have been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces of the United States, any of the service medals or badges awarded to the members of such forces, the ribbon, button, or rosette of any such badge, decoration, or medal, or any colorable imitation of such item shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than six months, or both.”
The law also specifies should one of the false claims involve a distinguished-service cross, a Navy cross, an Air Force cross, a silver star, or a Purple Heart “the offender shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than one year, or both.”
Being able to pass as a war hero is easier than some might think.
An Army News Service article in December said stealing valor is “fairly easy.”
“Medals and ribbons can be purchased on the Internet, and blank DD-214 discharge forms can be found online,” the article said. “Awards can then be typed in as well as other service-related data. It doesn't help matters that many service records were lost in a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, in 1973,” he added, meaning people can claim their records were destroyed.”
A spokesman for the Department of Defense in Washington, D.C. ,told the Cleveland Daily Banner stolen valor cases are handled by the Department of Justice, but DOD has a strong opinion of those who would masquerade as a hero.
“Recognizing our brave men and women for their heroic actions is one of the most important things we can do as a Department. Our service members have shown great courage and sacrifice on the battlefield throughout our nation's history and it is fitting that we honor their sacrifice and courage publically,” said Lt. Cmdr. Nate Christensen, DOD spokesman.
“Our service members earn their medals through hard work and tremendous sacrifice. It is shameful that some individuals fraudulently claim to be combat veterans or war heroes for personal gain.”
The Army News Service also points out steps people can take to uncover and report stolen valor.
The Department of Defense makes available lists of those who have received honors during their military service where accommodations for honor can be verified.
It also recommends bringing the matter to the public through available media and says any fraudulent claim should be brought to the attention of the U.S. Attorney’s office.
A request to the Justice Department for statistics and vigilance on prosecuting the law had not been responded to at press time.