"Stolen Valor" is a term applied to the phenomenon of people falsely claiming military awards or medals they did not earn, service they did not perform, Prisoner of War experiences that never happened, and other tales of military actions that exist only in their minds. In the United States, thousands of cases have been documented in recent years in which judges, politicians, celebrities, veterans' group officials, antiwar activists, prominent people, and average citizens have been exposed for lying about their military record. This issue has become increasingly more prominent 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".
Stolen Valor Act of 2005
The Stolen Valor Act of 2005's passing was a necessary step in protecting 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.
However, the statute was struck down by the Supreme Court in the United States v. Alvarez, 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.
Stolen Valor Act of 2013
A revised version of the statute, the Stolen Valor Act of 2013, 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
- Any replacement or duplicate medal for such medal as authorized by law
Signs of Stolen Valor
How does an individual with or without military experience tell the difference between a legitimate claim and stolen valor? It's not easy and without additional information, it can be more difficult to tell where the truth ends and falsehoods begin. But those who choose to exaggerate or lie about their military service often make the same kinds of mistakes as those who have lied about serving before them.
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.
How To Obtain Records
Records prior to WWI are in Washington, D.C. Instructions for obtaining those records can be found at Archives.gov.
National Personnel Records Center
1 Archives Drive
St. Louis, Missouri 63138
NOTE: Home of Heroes does not have access to individual military personnel records and is unable to research stolen valor. Agencies that need to verify valor award recipients should contact the appropriate Military Service. The Military Services provide priority support to law enforcement agencies to assist them in determining whether or not someone is a valor award recipient. Employers, state, or federal organizations can verify valor award recipients by requesting copies of the service member's discharge paperwork. For further instructions, please visit Valor.Defense.gov.