The U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the 2012 Stolen Valor Act on September 13th, 2012, in response to the Supreme Court overturning of the 2005 Stolen Valor Act. Using the “suspension of the rules” process, this act easily passed 410-3 and awaits a vote in the Senate.
Xavier Alvarez challenged the constitutionality of the 2006 Stolen Valor Act when he was convicted in 2007 of lying about having received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest military award in the United States. Alvarez claimed the First Amendment protected his rights to free speech, including lying. The U.S. Supreme Court agreed with Alvarez and struck down the act on June 12th, 2012.
False claims of service in the military and unearned decorations seem to be increasing. America’s Got Talent contestant Timothy Michael Poe claimed to have been injured in combat in Afghanistan, even providing a picture of him in combat. Problem was, it wasn’t him, he was never injured, and the ex of the service member saw the photo. She called up the service member to let him know, and Poe’s story was blown. Representative Tim Walz of Minnesota claimed in his 2006 election to have served with the National Guard in Afghanistan in combat conditions. Truth of it was, he was in the National Guard, but he was in Italy, behind a desk.
Representative Joe Heck introduced H.B 1775 (the technical name of the act) in May, 2012, believing (as most people did) that the Supreme Court would rule in Alvarez’s favor. The 2006 Act was written broadly, calling it a crime to claim to have earned a military decoration and/or medal. The 2012 Act narrows down the previous law in terms of financial fraud. Those who falsely claim to have earned a medal and/or decoration and then profits from that claim can be imprisoned for up to one year.
Because of the number of falsified claims, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has authorized the creation of a website that lists the names of service members who have received the Congressional Medal of Honor since September 11th, 2001. That website is expected to expand to include other medals in order to others easily prove or refute someone’s claim.
The American Legion actively supports this bill, stating that false claims of medals and decorations “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…” which then “takes away valuable resources from those who are entitled…” This Act has bipartisan support across both sides of the Congress, with Senator Scott Brown having introduced a similar bill in the Senate to speed up the lawmaking process. The president is expected to sign the bill into law.