Should fake vets pay price for perfidy?

New law would make lying about service illegal

Lawmakers are pushing for a new law to penalize impostors who say they earned combat honors while serving in the military.

The first such law, the Stolen Valor Act of 2006, was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on June 28 on the grounds that it violated First Amendment rights.

Senate Democrats have introduced the Military Service Integrity Act of 2012, which they say will satisfy the Supreme Court by targeting those who lie about military service and honors for financial and personal gain.

Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Colorado Democrats, are co-sponsoring the bill introduced by Sen. Jim Webb of Virginia. Udall also co-sponsored the Stolen Valor Act while serving in the House of Representatives in 2006.

Violators would face a fine and/or six months in prison, or one year in prison if the misrepresentation involves serving in a combat zone or in a special-operations force or being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.

Udall said the new legislation will ensure that the honor of those who have served is not exploited by others.

“Allowing individuals to falsely portray themselves as veterans or recipients of highly respected awards, like the Purple Heart, cheapens the sacrifices of actual veterans,” Udall said. “Congress needs to act … to protect the image and integrity of our troops and veterans and to protect taxpayers and voters from those who would profit from their false claims of service.”

The Military Service Integrity Act would punish people who falsely portray themselves as veterans and use that perception to profit, gain hiring preference or seek elected office, a Udall staff member said. The legislation also would make it a crime to manufacture, sell, attempt to sell, import or export U.S. military decorations or medals designated by Congress for the armed forces, except in cases of lawful regulations.

In October 2011, Senate Republicans introduced their own version of the bill that they say abides by the Supreme Court’s ruling.

“We must defend the valor of those who have served our country, especially those men and women who have earned awards for outstanding service, but that we also must protect the very liberties for which our servicemen and women sacrificed,” Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nevada, said. “The Stolen Valor Act of 2011 would achieve both objectives.”

The Republican Stolen Valor Act of 2011 would punish “whoever, with intent to obtain anything of value, knowingly makes a misrepresentation regarding his or her military service.”

The Democratic bill says someone cannot lie for “tangible benefit or personal gain” – specifically, to obtain government employee benefits; receive employment or a promotion; earn money; affect a court decision; or aid a political campaign.

Under the Republican bill, penalties do not apply to those who receive something of nominal value like “a drink at a bar for telling an embellished war tale,” Heck said.

The Republican Senate bill is identical to Heck’s legislation, and it was introduced in May 2011. The House’s version has bipartisan support, including Reps. Mike Coffman and Doug Lamborn, Colorado Republicans, whereas the two Senate bills are co-sponsored almost entirely along party lines.

Rachel Karas is an intern for The Durango Herald and a student at American University in Washington, D.C. Reach her at rkaras@durangoherald.com.

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