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Stolen Valor, Round II

Posted By McQ • [June 29, 2012]

So the Supremes said no to the 2006 Stolen Valor act finding it too broad and, in essence, because of that a violation of free speech.  The point?  Hey, Congress, don’t make it so broad.

That’s where round 2 comes in:

Congressman Joe Heck (NV-03) today released the following statement after the Supreme Court of the United States ruled a federal law passed in 2006 which made it a crime to lie about one's military record or awards unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled that such fabrication of military service or awards is free speech protected by the Constitution.

"While originally very popular, the 2006 law went too far in that it attempted to limit individuals' speech. My bill takes a different approach – making it illegal for individuals to benefit from lying about their military service or record. As a colonel in the US Army Reserve, I feel strongly about protecting the honor of our service men and women, and the Stolen Valor Act of 2011 will help do that.

"Now that the Supreme Court has laid down this marker, I will be pushing for a vote on a version of the Stolen Valor Act that will pass constitutional scrutiny."

Background:

In May of 2011, Congressman Heck introduced H.R. 1775, the Stolen Valor Act of 2011, which would make it illegal for individuals to benefit from lying about their military service, record, or awards. It is likely that this bill would pass constitutional review on the grounds that it does not attempt to limit speech. Rep. Heck's bill has 52 bipartisan co-sponsors. Senator Scott Brown (MA) has introduced the Senate companion bill, S. 1782.

I think that would partially fill the bill.  It would make it a crime for any faker to benefit from their fakery whether with veteran benefits or otherwise.  After all, that’s fraud.  It seems that should be covered already under fraud statutes, but maybe not (I’m sure that getting VA benefits would be fraud under existing law, but I’m not sure about benefits, pay, compensation, etc. garnered in the civilian world based on a faked military background – like faking out a military charity with a hard luck story and bogus documents).

That sort of leaves us with the problem of fakers who aren’t “benefitting” though, doesn’t it?

How about this as a start:

In his opinion striking down the Stolen Valor Act on Thursday, United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy offered an alternative solution for defending the military’s award system against fakers, one he said would not infringe on First Amendment rights.

“The government could likely protect the integrity of the military awards system by creating a database of medal winners accessible and searchable on the Internet, as some private individuals have already done,” Justice Kennedy wrote. “Were a database accessible through the Internet, it would be easy to verify and expose false claims.”

Gee what a good idea.  Why haven’t we done that already?  Well, we all know how awards are given and that many awards aren’t centrally approved, but there is nothing that says that awards given can’t be reported to a central database.  After all it’s not like the military does that daily with a lot of requirements, does it?

… Doug Sterner, a Vietnam veteran who for more than a decade has been painstakingly logging military award citations into a public database, a task the Defense Department has declined to take on.

So far, Mr. Sterner said on Thursday, he has logged more than 104,000 award records, including every recipient of the top two tiers of military honors: the Medal of Honor, the highest military award, and the Air Force Cross, the Navy Cross and the Distinguished Service Cross. (The Congressional Medal of Honor Society also maintains a database of all Medal of Honor recipients.)

Mr. Sterner says he has done all that data entry himself, helped on the technical side by Militarytimes.com, which hosts the database, known as the Hall of Valor. He asserts that for a few million dollars, he could hire a team of data entry workers and, within three years, log every military valor award ever awarded by the United States military.

My guess is Sterner is right – he could likely log them all with a team and some money.

If you’re not familiar with the Hall of Heroes, you ought to be.  It is extensive and a source for me, at least, for the Someone You Should Know segments I do each week on WRKO 680am out of Boston on Sunday nights.

But this isn’t much of a priority for DoD.

In fact till now DoD has used the privacy excuse not to do so:

The Defense Department says it has not created a public database of valor awards because federal privacy laws prohibit it from publicizing identifying information about recipients, such as their dates of birth or Social Security numbers. Without such data, the database would be virtually useless in checking an individual’s claim to have received a medal, the department asserted in a 2009 report to Congress.

But as Sterner points out, there are ways to do it anyway, as he has demonstrated.

Mr. Sterner says he has put together his database using public records, some obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. He says he does not log Social Security numbers, but will include a date of birth if if it is already publicly available on the Internet, or the recipient is deceased, or has voluntarily agreed to provide it.

He also includes other identifying information when available, such as birthplace or home of record, which he says are often found in the citations or in the press releases issued by the Pentagon itself. And he sometimes includes a photograph, though he will avoid using a picture if the recipient is still active in the Special Operations Command.

Sounds to me as if it’s just not a priority to the DoD, which, you’d think, would want the valor of its members protected.

You’d think.

Time for DoD to get on the ball and help stamp out this epidemic of stolen valor.  Brave men and women died for those awards.  The least DoD could do is enable work to ensure they and they alone are honored for their bravery instead of making it easy for some fat clown who has never seen a day in uniform but has decided to act out his militaristic fantasy publicly from stealing that valor.

~McQ

Twitter: @McQandO


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