New Stolen Valor Act passes House

The American Legion-backed Stolen Valor Act of 2013 has passed the U.S. House of Representatives. The proposed law, which would criminalize the act of lying about receiving military medals and honors in order to defraud persons or institutions for profit, was introduced early this year by Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev. The congressman is a U.S. Army Reserve colonel and a member of Legion Paradise Post 149 in Las Vegas.

The new Stolen Valor Act of 2013 is a modified version of the Stolen Valor Act of 2005. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 2005 statute as signed by President George W. Bush was in violation of the right of free speech since it could be interpreted as criminalizing the mere act of uttering a falsehood about being the recipient of certain honors. The newly proposed law, as suggested in the Supreme Court’s ruling, specifies that the falsehoods must be designed “with intent to obtain money, property or other tangible benefit.”  These would include veterans benefits.

The Supreme Court’s decision defining the old law as unconstitutional came out of the United States v. Alvarez case of 2012. The case arose from a lie told by Xavier Alvarez in a public meeting several years before. At the time, Alvarez was an elected member of the board of directors of a water district in Southern California. In that instance, Alvarez had fraudulently represented himself as a retired Marine and Medal of Honor recipient for actions during the Iranian hostage crisis. A member of the public knew these claims to be false, pressed the issue and Alvarez – who also purported to a Vietnam veteran helicopter pilot, a former Detroit Red Wings hockey player, a police officer dismissed for using excessive force and the secret husband of a Mexican starlet – was prosecuted under the old Stolen Valor Act. In the end, the Supreme Court declared that Alvarez, and others like him, must have lied about military decorations and honors for tangible gain rather than just false boasting rights.

Last August, Legion leadership adopted Resolution No. 283, calling for amendment of the old Stolen Valor Act to “provide that the elements of fraud be incorporated into the previous…legislation” and resolved to back any new legislation that would meet the concerns expressed by the Supreme Court. That is what Heck’s bill did and, in late March, American Legion National Commander Jim Koutz wrote a letter of support to the Nevada congressman.

In early February, a companion Stolen Valor Act of 2013 was introduced into the U.S. Senate by Heck’s fellow Nevada Republican, Sen. Dean Heller, and Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. That bill is still under committee consideration.