The American Legion is reviewing a newly introduced bill that would enhance current federal legislation that punishes those who falsely represent themselves as decorated military heroes. A provision in the proposed law would answer the Legion's call to prosecute those who lie about being awarded certain medals and decorations in order to gain veterans' benefits.
The existing federal law, (Title 18, Section 704) reads, in part, "whoever falsely represents himself or herself, verbally or in writing, to have been awarded (certain) decoration(s) or medal(s) authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces...shall be fined ...imprisoned....or both."
The new Stolen Valor Act of 2013, introduced into the 113th Congress by Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., would replace that provision with: "Whoever, with intent to obtain money, property or other tangible benefit, fraudulently holds oneself out to be a recipient of a decoration or medal described...shall be fined (and/or) imprisoned not more than one year...."
The Legion's Resolution 238: Amend Stolen Valor Act, which was adopted during last year's national convention, contends that the existing laws "have not been effective in stopping false claims of receipt of medals and decorations of valor, which criminal acts appear to be escalating as the Act remains but a misdemeanor and not a felony (and) false claims of military service and receipt of medals of valor have resulted in literally millions of dollars in fraudulent claims for VA services, as well as related costs of investigation by the VA, and law enforcement agencies, to uncover false claims, all of which, ‘takes away valuable resources from those who are entitled,' in the words of the VA Inspector General."
The Legion resolution concludes by asking Congress "to provide that the elements of fraud be incorporated into previous Stolen Valor legislation such that it accomplishes the same goal as the previous legislation and passes Constitutional muster."
The medals and decorations defined in the existing Stolen Valor Act are the Medal of Honor, Navy Cross, Air Force Cross, Silver Star and Purple Heart. The proposed Stolen Valor Act of 2013 adds the Combat Infantryman's Badge, Combat Action Badge, Combat Medical Badge, Combat Action Ribbon and Combat Action Medal to the list.
Heck's bill had gained bipartisan support among 69 co-sponsors as of mid-January and has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for consideration. Members of the Legion's Legislative Division are due to meet in Heck's office on Jan. 23 to share their views on the proposed legislation and help determine if it conforms to terms of the Legion's resolution. The Legion also wants to confirm the constitutionality of the proposed Stolen Valor Act of 2013. Previous, similar legislation, alluded to in the Legion resolution, had been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court as being too restrictive and infringing upon the right of freedom of speech.