Veterans’ Voices is a new column directed toward veterans and their families who have given so much to ensure our freedom in this country. This is an area where you may share your experiences, or read of other veterans’ experiences. We thank you for your service, and hope that you know how much you are loved and appreciated.
“Stolen Valor” is a term applied to the phenomenon of somebody falsely claiming military awards or medals they did not earn, service they did not perform, Prisoner of War experiences that never happened, and tales of military actions that exist only in their heads. There have been thousands of cases documented in recent years in which judges, politicians, celebrities, veteran group officials, antiwar activists, prominent people, and average citizens have been exposed to these lies about their military service. This issue has been happening more often in the United States in recent years. As a result, new legislations have been passed, with the goal being to completely eliminate the term “Stolen Valor” and “military imposter.” The reason I bring all of this up is for two reasons.
1) I have been getting emails from my readers asking if there are laws against this.
2) I knew of a veteran in a service organization which I am a life member of, that committed this same act. He told everyone that he was a war veteran, and it was proven that he was never in a war, which brings me to the next part of this issue. But first, let me explain the differences of a veteran, a war time veteran, and a war veteran.
Veteran: Anybody that serves in the military for at least 180 days or sustained a service-related injury while in the military and got out with an honorable discharge.
War time veteran: This is a veteran that served during a period of war but was not in a hostile fire zone.
War veteran: This is a veteran that received hostile fire pay and was deployed to and served in a combat zone.
Now, back to the veteran that stole valor. I found that this veteran was not in any conflict or war according to his DD214 (Military discharge information). I think this is wrong and should not be tolerated. To me, I think it is the same thing as spitting on a fallen veteran’s grave that paid the ultimate sacrifice.
Now, the law: The Stolen Valor Act of 2005’s passing was a necessary step to protect the integrity of our military awards. This act made it a federal misdemeanor for falsely representing oneself as having received any U.S. military decoration or medal. The problem is severe, and the Stolen Valor Act of 2005 has proven to be an effective tool in uncovering frauds, but far worse is the fact that the real heroes, men, and women who did earn high awards like the silver star or highly respected awards like the purple heart, have been forgotten as far as I am concerned.
However, the statute was struck down by the Supreme Court in the United States where the court ruled the arrest and prosecution of a citizen for wearing unearned military awards, who did so without criminal intent, violates his constitutional right to freedom of speech.
Then there was the Stolen Valor Act of 2013. This specifically amends the federal criminal code to make it a crime for someone to claim they have served in the military, embellish their rank, or fraudulently claim having received a valor award specific in the act, with the intention of obtaining money, property, or other tangible benefits by convincing another that he or she received the award. Under this act, fraudulent claims about military service can be 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 benefits, fraudulently holds himself or herself to be a recipient of: Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, Air Force Cross, Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Combat Action Ribbon, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Combat Action Badge, Combat Medical Badge, Combat Action Medal, or any replacement or duplicate medal for such medal as authorized by law.
Signs of Stolen Valor
One of the most obvious mistakes is making a claim about serving that the person cannot describe in detail. For example, someone who was deployed in Iraq may or may not have served in the “Green Zone” in Baghdad. Anyone who DID serve there likely knows a detail or two that someone who was NOT there doesn’t know. Some sources report the Green Zone was the “common name” referencing the International Zone of Baghdad, which was just under four miles in the Karkh district. Does the person claiming service in this situation know what district the Green Zone was located in?
Other attempts to claim service that was not real can include obvious mistakes about the nature of duty. You wouldn’t take “shore leave” as a ground-based soldier, and you can’t be a lawyer in the U.S. military as an enlisted person. Those mistakes are easy to make when you have never served, or barely served.
Some may claim to have served in elite units and have “secret military records.” This is a classic example of an unverifiable claim and as such, they are usually viewed with suspicion. Others may claim to have served “during the war” and let people draw their own conclusions about what that means. However, serving during wartime is NOT the same as serving in a hostile fire zone. There are plenty of veterans who serve during times of conflict but who do not actually participate in live fire.
My wife told me that she saw a man holding a sign that stated “Vietnam Vet. Please help with food”. She then asked me how to tell if a person was in Vietnam. I told her to ask two simple questions. 1) Where was that man during Tet and 2) Did he serve on the Front Lines. If he did not know what Tet was, he was not there. If he answered the second question with yes or no, he did not serve there.
On January 30th, 1968. North Vietnamese and Viet Cong Troops launched the Tet Offensive against South Vietnamese and United States targets, This Tet Offensive became a major turning point in the Vietnam War.
And as far as the front lines, there were no front lines or back lines. You were in a jungle.
I hope this answers a lot of questions that were sent to me. If any others, don’t hesitate to contact me or comment to AboutVets@yahoo.com.
— Royal D. Goodman, U.S. Army / Vietnam,
1st Cav / 9th Infantry