Senate Passes "Stolen Valor Act" Making it a Federal Crime to Lie About Military History

The Stolen Valor Act of 2012, sponsored by decorated Vietnam War veteran Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., passed the Senate as an amendment to the 2013 defense authorization bill.  Webb’s proposal makes it a federal crime to make a false claim about having served in the military or having received a military decoration if the object of the lie is for personal gain.

Under the new amendment, those caught lying for personal gain or for a tangible benefit would face a fine of up to $10,000 and up to six months imprisonment.

This means lying about military experience to get a job, either for the government or for the private sector, running for political office, trying to impact the outcome of a civil or criminal court case or getting an appointment to an executive position at a non-profit organization, could all be covered under terms of Webb’s legislation.  Any improper statements or claims, verbal or written, could put a person at risk of committing a federal crime.

Because people who serve in the military are held in great respect, lies about military service are especially harmful, the new amendment says. Employers often hire veterans ahead of others, the public often elects veterans, the government sets aside contracts for veterans and people who serve are held in great respect, especially for those who have received awards for valor, the approved draft  continues.

Although the Senate-passed amendment has been approved as part of S. 3254, it is far from the final work on the bill.  The House of Representatives also has its own Stolen Valor legislation, HR 1775, sponsored by Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev.  The House bill would reinstate criminal penalties for lying about military service and military awards that were struck down last June by the Supreme Court on free speech grounds.

Heck’s bill, passed by the House in September, covers only false claims related to specific awards. It covers the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Navy Cross, Air Force Cross, Silver Star and Purple Heart. Also covered would be campaign badges, including the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Combat Action Badge, the Combat Medical Badge, Combat Action Ribbon and Combat Action Medal.

The penalty is tougher under the House bill, with up to one year in prison.  Meanwhile, Heck’s bill makes it a crime if the false claim is done “with the intent to obtain money, property or other tangible benefit.” The Senate measure describes examples of a tangible benefit or personal gain. The House bill does not.

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