Just when you think veterans cannot be treated any worse, it happens. In the wake of the VA hospital wait times, which is still being sorted out, there is an emerging issue with “stolen valor.” This is not necessarily a new issue, but it is definitely becoming more prevalent these days. Stolen valor refers to an individual who poses as a veteran. Who knew there were people out there low enough to claim military service and reap the benefits without ever having done so? Our veterans struggle to receive the most basic assistance from the government. Now on top of their struggles post-service, a veteran’s service is being minimized by other individual’s fraudulent activity so as to get a store discount. Does it get any worse than that?
Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act of 2013, which amends the federal criminal code. This Act makes it a federal crime for a person to fraudulently claim receiving military decorations for the purpose of obtaining money, property or other tangible benefits. The Stolen Valor Act of 2005 was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 2011. The Court said this act infringes on an individual’s constitutional right to freedom of speech. In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, President Obama stated, “It may no longer be a crime for con artists to pass themselves off as heroes, but one thing is certain – it is contemptible…No American here should ever have their valor stolen.” The 2013 version of the bill changed its focus to fraud. It says the individual must be attempting to somehow materially profit from the scam, making their actions fraud based. An individual who violates this act can face fines or up to one year in jail.
CNN recently reported a veteran who called out a “phony” soldier dressed in a military uniform at a Philadelphia mall. The veteran videotaped the encounter.
In an effort to combat this type of fraud, the United States Department of Defense has established a website to track recipients of awards and decorations of the United States military. If you know of someone fraudulently receiving any type of veteran’s benefit please report them to your local police station. This is the very least we can do to honor our veterans for their service.