Stolen Valor is the act of receiving military honors and awards fraudulently and when they weren’t rightfully earned, and it happens all the time, but not everyone knows that it’s a crime to do so.
Stolen Valor became a criminal act when former President Obama signed the Stolen Valor Act of 2013. The law declared that it was a federal crime to “fraudulently hold oneself out to be a recipient of any of several specified military decorations or medals with the intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit.”
The bill was introduced by Rep. Joe Heck, who said, “Those who deliberately lie about military service, wear medals they did not earn or make claims of combat heroism they did not achieve are more than just liars. They are perpetrators of the worst kind of fraud. Their lies are an insult to all who have truly stood in harm’s way and earned their decorations,” American Legion reported at the time.
Part of the Stolen Valor law was struck down by the Supreme Court who said it was a violation of freedom of speech to arrest and prosecute those who wore unauthorized medals without criminal intent.
The 2013 law increased the maximum jail time to one year in prison, up from the previous six-month maximum established by the Stolen Valor Act of 2005.
However, it wasn’t until Jan. 1, 2019 that the penalty for the crime was officially increased to one-year imprisonment under military law.
“The penalty for wearing unauthorized medals of valor has increased from 6 months to a max of one-year confinement along with forfeiture of pay and a bad-conduct discharge. This includes wearing an unauthorized Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Purple Heart, or valor device. The maximum penalty for wearing any other unauthorized medal is still only six months,” the Army said in a news release.
“Many of the MJRG’s changes were incorporated into the Military Justice Act of 2016, the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act, and then Executive Order 13825 signed by the president March 8 . Additionally, Secretary of the Army Mark Esper signed a directive Dec. 20  that clarifies definitions for dozens of offenses,” the news release added.
The effort against Stolen Valor began before the changes implemented by the last two administrations.
In 2007, “Operation Stolen Valor” was conducted by the Veterans Affairs Office of Inspector General. The investigation took place over a one-year period to prosecute those who lied about their military service for financial gain or other reasons, according to the Justice Department.
The result was eight arrests and prosecutions, and the Stolen Valor perpetrators were able to scam more than $1.4 million.
Douglas J. Carver, Special Agent in Charge of the VA Office of Inspector General, Western Field Office said, “The ‘phony war hero phenomenon’ plagues the American landscape and tarnishes the service of thousands of veterans who have served honorably. It strangles VA resources from providing critical care and benefits to deserving veterans returning from war. It all boils downs to this: these phonies submit claims to the VA for compensation and medical benefits they are not entitled to, and it takes away valuable resources from those who are entitled.”