STOLEN VALOR: WHAT IT IS, LEGALITY, AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT
By Buddy Blouin
In life, there are many unwritten rules. Some are really stupid, and others make perfect sense, such as not pretending to be a military member in order to gain popularity, praise, or even monetary benefits. Welcome to the world of stolen valor, where civilians who did not serve the United States claim to have been a part of the Armed Forces. Some do it for a false sense of pride. Others are looking to gain military benefits, and others… well, it’s hard to explain something so immoral. Yet, here we go, trying to make sense of such a spineless act and what can be done about it. Including new laws aiming to end the practice.
Read next:The Navy Cross Honors the Valor of Sailors
What Is Stolen Valor?While stolen valor can be done in a variety of ways, any time someone lies about their military service, uses military uniforms/achievements for honor or gain, or falsely speaks about military operations they wouldn’t know of. All of these can be fake valor, whether it’s big or small. It could be as simple as someone falsely stating that they're a proud Veteran on Facebook or walking around in a military uniform with medals proclaiming a fake military career. Overall, it’s a jerk move and disrespectful to all who've served, but this is especially true for those who've suffered injury or loss from their time keeping America safe.
Is Stolen Valor a Crime?In most situations, stolen valor is not a crime. Civilians can create tall tales, wear their favorite military fatigues, and use any branch of the military to make themselves look good, and it’s perfectly legal. However, there are areas in which doing such immoral acts may also cross into the illegal spectrum. For example, if someone is impersonating a U.S. Soldier to experience a false sense of accomplishment, the law is on their side. Where things begin to turn is when civilians use false valor to enjoy some sort of benefit. This could be as simple as receiving a discount on a meal or as serious as trying to take advantage of a loophole to procure property. Either way, no matter the benefit, civilians may be prosecuted for fraud. Fraud can come in many shapes and forms, including altering documents or misrepresentation, but it does not count if someone is simply lying about their service. If a civilian were to even use things such as military medals to embellish their reputation, this would legally be allowed, so long as it’s not done for some sort of personal gain. Though, then again, even this can get complicated…
Legal Attempts and ProposalsThe Stolen Valor Act of 2022 (2022-H 7714A) that's being proposed by the Rhode Island House of Representatives is but the latest in legislative attempts to make stolen valor a crime. This stems from a situation involving Sarah Jane Cavanaugh, a Rhode Island woman who posed as a sick Marine Veteran to receive benefits. However, it’s important to note that Sarah Jane Cavanaugh was charged with posing as a sick Marine Vet but is pleading guilty because, even without 2022-H 7714A, this would constitute a crime. Cavanaugh exceeded just the moral wrongdoings of fake valor by financially benefiting from her lies. A previous piece of legislature, the Stolen Valor Act of 2005, was eventually overturned, as it was deemed to be unconstitutional. In 2013, H.R.258 was passed, making it illegal for people to do what Cavanaugh did and lie about military service to receive benefits. Now, there are multiple proposals to increase these penalties and help better define what could be punishable by law.
Bad Business: Stolen Valor in the Sights of the NDAThere are many ways to fake valor, as mentioned above and the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is aiming to help stifle a commercial aspect of the unfavorable practice. This is because the 2024 NDAA will feature an amendment for businesses that are stating they are either owned by Veterans, service-disabled, or not. Effectively, the bill states that such businesses won’t count for government targets involving contracting for such entities. Why does this matter? Now, businesses will have to formally get a certification proving that they are in fact owned by a Veteran. This means that government contracts will go to those who have served rather than those who are stealing valor during the process. Veteran-owned businesses will receive an increase in contracting dollars to 5% up from 3% in 2023. Since 2022, the Small Business Administration (SBA) has set up a proper way for businesses to certify that they are actually owned by a Veteran when identifying as such rather than steal valor.
Spotting Stolen Valor and What to DoDepending on who you are, your experience, and the situation you're in, spotting stolen valor can be very difficult or very obvious. Popular signs may include:
- Wearing the uniform, or a replica, involving some sort of Special Forces.
- Irregular terminology or timelines involving alleged military operations.
- A braggadocious attitude about their “time” in the military.
Suggested read:4 Naval Officers Found Guilty After $35 Million Fraud in Fat Leonard Case Sources: 2022 -- H 7714 STATE OF RHODE ISLAND, State of Rhode Island. Accessed December 2023. https://webserver.rilegislature.gov/BillText22/HouseText22/H7714.pdf S.1998 - Stolen Valor Act of 2005, Congress. Accessed December 2023. https://www.congress.gov/bill/109th-congress/senate-bill/1998 H.R.258 - Stolen Valor Act of 2013, Congress. Accessed December 2023. https://www.congress.gov/bill/113th-congress/house-bill/258
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