OUR OPINION: New law protects valor and honor


Almost the whole Mississippi congressional delegation in some way directly influenced passage this week of the Stolen Valor Act, a set of statutes making more explicit – and it is hoped constitutional – the criminal illegality of falsely using claims of military service and commendation for profit.

The bill, approved Wednesday night by the Senate’s unanimous consent in its House form, HR 258, was sponsored by Mississippi U.S. Reps. Gregg Harper, Alan Nunnelee, and Steven Palazzo. Sen. Thad Cochran was a co-sponsor of the Senate version, and Sen. Roger Wicker a sponsor of previous versions.

The new law is an appropriate introit for Memorial Day Weekend, the chief holiday honoring all who died in mlitary service to the United States.

The measure passed this week in both chambers revives and refines a law struck down by the Supreme Court. The court said in 2012 it may be disreputable to lie about receiving a medal, but it’s protected speech under the First Amendment.

The new bill is narrower, making it a crime to lie about being decorated with the intent to profit financially.

The Army Times reported in its May 23 editions, “Under the bill, it’s a federal crime to benefit from knowingly lying about receiving certain valorous military medals and awards. Maximum punishment would be a fine of up to $100,000 and up to one year in prison for each offense.”

Army Times also reported that the law will not apply to every medal.

“Specifically covered are the Medal of Honor, service crosses, Silver Star, Purple Heart and combat badges such as Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Combat Action Badge, Combat Medical Badge, Combat Action Ribbon, or Combat Action Medal,” the newspaper reported.

Claiming decorations “becomes fraudulent if the liar obtains or tries to obtain money, property or some other tangible benefit. For example, claiming to be a combat veteran on a job application or to receive a government contract set aside for a veterans would be fraud, as would receiving unearned veterans’ disability or health benefits if any of the combat-related awards used to qualify for those benefits were falsely claimed,” Army Times reported.

Lying about military service for personal gaiin is not a new phenomenon, and the alleged untruthful beneficiaries more often than not have been high-profile politicians in both parties, some who have good military records but with false embellishments.

The Act was first introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on July 19, 2005, by Rep. John Salazar, a Democrat from Colorado, as H.R. 3352. The House passed the Senate version, S. 1998, on Dec. 6, 2006, and it was struck down in 2012.

The corrective action passed this week seeks to provide appropriate penalities for claims that are both dishonorablle and criminal, a reaffirmation of the valor, heroism and sacrifice of all who are memorialized this weekend.

NEMS Daily Journal