What is Stolen Valor and is It a Crime?

In general, it is not a crime to lie about serving in the military just to brag or impress others. Doing so may be morally reprehensible, but the deception isn’t enough to fine someone or put them in jail. However, “stolen valor” is a crime, as is impersonating a military member or officer. Learn more about the details of these crimes and why it’s important to defend yourself with help from an experienced military lawyer.

What is Stolen Valor?

This term describes making false claims about performing military service, earning military awards or medals, being a prisoner of war, and other details that aren’t true. Politicians, judges, celebrities, antiwar activists, veteran group officials, community leaders, and average citizens have been exposed for lying about their military records. The issue became so prominent in recent decades that the United States passed legislation making stolen valor a crime, first in 2005, with an amendment in 2013.

Stolen Valor Act of 2005

This act made it a federal misdemeanor to falsely represent the earning of US military decorations or medals. The statute was effective at uncovering fraud, but the Supreme Court struck it down in United States v. Alvarez. In this case, the judges ruled that the arrest and prosecution of a citizen for wearing unearned military awards without criminal intent violated his constitutional right to free speech.

Stolen Valor Act of 2013

The 2005 law did not account for intent, so it was amended in 2013 following the Supreme Court ruling. The Stolen Valor Act of 2013 specifically makes it a crime to falsely claim military service, embellished rank, or earned awards with the intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefits.

Under this amended act, fraudulent claims regarding military service are subject to a fine, imprisonment for up to one year, or both. The valor awards specifically mentioned in the act include:

  • 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

How to Tell Someone is Lying About Their Military Record

It’s not always easy to spot the deception, but those who lie about their military record often make the same mistakes. Here are some suspicious signs:

  • Failing to describe military service in detail: Someone who claims a specific deployment location and date should be able to provide details that align with other people who were there at the same time.
  • Not fully understanding the nature of military duty: For instance, a ground-based soldier wouldn’t say they took shore leave. This type of mistake is common among those who have never served or only served for a short time.
  • Making vague statements: A person may claim to have served “during the war” without specifying whether they actually deployed to a hostile warzone. Such a statement may not be fraudulent, but failing to correct others who draw the wrong conclusions could lead to trouble.

The only way to verify someone’s military record is to pull information from Official Military Personnel Files. The general public has no right to know this personal data without consent from the veteran or their next of kin, but some information is fair game under the Freedom of Information Act. Contact the National Archives for more information about what records they can release.

What is a Military Imposter?

Anyone who impersonates a member or veteran of the military by wearing uniforms, badges, or medals with the intent to deceive is considered a military imposter. Each state has slightly different definitions and punishments for impersonating a military member.

For instance, in Oklahoma, this is a misdemeanor punishable by a $100 fine and up to six months in county jail. Military impersonation is considered a more serious felony if the imposter pretends to have earned a Congressional Medal of Honor or if they present falsified or altered documents as proof of service. In both cases, the offender may be fined $5,000 or imprisoned in county jail for up to one year.

What is Impersonating a Military Officer?

Article 106 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)[G1] , Impersonation of an Officer, is wrongfully and willfully impersonating a commissioned, noncommissioned, warrant, or petty officer; an agent of superior authority in the armed forces; or a government official.

The prosecution must demonstrate that the conduct of the accused was to the prejudice of good order and discipline or was intended to bring discredit upon the armed forces. The maximum punishments for violating Article 106 include dishonorable discharge, forfeiture of all pay and allowances, and imprisonment of up to three years.

Defend Yourself Against Accusations of Stolen Valor or Impersonating an Officer

If you have been accused of these crimes, the prosecution may claim they have evidence and witnesses to prove you sought to defraud the government or another organization through deception. If found guilty of stolen valor or impersonating an officer, your military career could be ruined, and you may end up behind bars for months or even years.

For help fighting back against these charges, turn to Joseph L. Jordan, Attorney at Law. We can build a case to explain why the charges should be dropped, or that you deserve a lesser sentence, such as faking your military experience or position as a harmless prank. With over a decade of experience as a military attorney and years as a JAG officer before that, Mr. Jordan has the skill and know-how to obtain a favorable outcome. To speak directly with Mr. Jordan about your case, please call us toll-free at 800-580-8034 or 254-853-0064 today.

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