15 March 2010

"Stolen Valor" is fraud, period

I read an article yesterday in USA Today (H/T Tim Haggerty) questioning the constitutionality of the Stolen Valor Act. Signed into law by President Bush in 2005, this act prohibits the wear of certain military decorations, and is named for the "Stolen Valor" website, where researchers expose impostors claiming to be Medal of Honor recipients, Navy SEALs and Army Rangers.

Says USA Today:

In pending cases, two men are challenging the constitutionality of the Stolen Valor Act. Water-district board member Xavier Alvarez of Pomona, Calif., made the mistake of claiming to be a retired Marine and recipient of the Medal of Honor during a public meeting in 2007. Rick Glen Strandlof claimed before his arrest in 2009 in Colorado to be a wounded Marine veteran who received a Purple Heart and Silver Star. Such "semper frauds" enrage actual Marines who take well-earned pride in the corps and its traditions.

We can all agree that false claims of military honors are repugnant and worthy of social condemnation. These men deserve to be social pariahs, but there remains a serious question over whether they deserve to be criminal defendants. We should spend our time and resources on creating easily accessible resources to uncover false claims. We also need to remember that, in the end, true valor cannot be stolen. It can only be earned. What is left are pathetic pretenders who should not add constitutional injury to social insult.
Unfortunately, "Stolen Valor" is no trivial matter--the US Justice Department has uncovered millions of dollars in fraud perpetrated by phony veterans. Phony vets have used their "credentials" for employment, political gain, and even to score with the ladies. Fortunately, dozens of volunteers run websites dedicated to uncovering phony veterans. With the ubiquity of digital cameras and social networking sites, phony veterans are becoming much easier to detect and expose.

Stolen Valor isn't a matter of freedom of speech. Impersonating government officials--be they police officers or military service members--has always been illegal.


Shaun Baker said...

hear hear!

Andy Kravetz said...

it is tragic that people have to be something they aren't. But I wonder, and some might slap me around for it, if the media and others aren't perpetuating these hoaxes by attaching the hero moniker to every GI they talk to. I believe those who pretend to be a MOH holder or a SEAL are people who unhappy with their lives and want to be part of something "cool." They are wrong and they steal from every vet who put on the uniform. But I wonder if we didn't dial down the platitudes, you might not see as many frauds.

Let the smackdown begin.