Stolen valor, like post-traumatic stress, is one of the most misunderstood issues in the U.S. veterans’ community. Sadly, the result is that many veterans like me have been targeted online by others claiming to be veterans with the intent of destroying our credibility, silencing us during a debate or some other malicious intent unknown to me. In my case, the argument was that I was pretending to be a veteran, and the goal was to expose me as a poser.
What does stolen valor’s definition really mean in the veterans’ community, though? For many, based on my experience, it’s anyone who is claiming to be something he or she is not, whether it’s pretending to be a veteran, wearing awards and decorations that weren’t earned, or creating some kind of scam. Most often, it’s a person who just doesn’t like you and is looking for some way to expose you as a fake and subject you to harassment and ridicule.
Since I don’t know who turned me in for stolen valor, I can only speculate as to their reasons for doing it. I can also only speculate as to why I was accused of being a traitor and compared to Bowe Bergdahl, who was taken into custody for his actions in Afghanistan. What he did resulted in the deaths of six soldiers, which, although foolish and deadly, wasn’t a treasonous act.
NewsAhead World News Forecast most recently reported on Bergdahl’s court martial and the charges he is facing. I have never faced charges in my career, and I was certainly never guilty of getting any of my fellow soldiers killed. If I had, I wouldn’t be here to write this.
Although there are some cases where those who have been accused of stolen valor are guilty, it’s important to understand first what the Stolen Valor Law is and how and what is possible under the law.
A poser is committing fraud. Period. For me to say I was a veteran and then not be is to commit fraud, especially if I did it to get benefits of any type or seek monetary gain. Then the Stolen Valor Law would apply. In The Foothills Focus, Judge Gerald A. Williams, a North Valley Justice of the Peace, explained the Stolen Valor Act and why it was subsequently overturned.
As outlined by Congress in the law, stolen valor becomes a crime when the person seeks monetary gain by claiming awards that were never earned.
“Stolen Valor Act of 2013 – Amends the federal criminal code to rewrite provisions relating to fraudulent claims about military service to subject to a fine, imprisonment for not more than one year, or both an individual who, with intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit, fraudulently holds himself or herself out to be a recipient of:
a Congressional Medal of Honor,
a distinguished-service cross,
a Navy cross,
an Air Force cross,
a silver star,
a Purple Heart,
a Combat Infantryman’s Badge,
a Combat Action Badge,
a Combat Medical Badge,
a Combat Action Ribbon,
a Combat Action Medal, or
any replacement or duplicate medal for such medal as authorized by law.”
I actually served twice, once in the U.S. Army and then again in the Michigan Army National Guard. My highest awards were a National Defense Service Medal for the first Persian Gulf War, because I served in the Guard during that time period, and an Army Achievement Medal. These are facts easily proven by requesting copies of my DD 214 and NGB 22 using an SF 180 to St. Louis, Missouri, where records for veterans who were discharged before 1992 are kept.
I didn’t even realize I had been investigated for stolen valor until last summer when a group on Facebook decided that they would take me down because they claimed I wasn’t a veteran. I was attacked on boards I had no access to because I had left the veterans’ community on Facebook months before because I was tired of being harassed. The organization that investigated me stepped forward and put an end to the accusations against me and ended the harassment, stalking, bullying, and threats I was subjected to.
Women veterans are often the target of this type of harassment in the veterans’ community because we are often seen as easy targets. We’re told we’re not real veterans because we didn’t serve in combat or combat arms. Most veterans haven’t. To treat those of us who have honorably served as targets of ridicule, public hatred, and potentially injure our reputations is libel and defamation of character, and according to Cornell Law, it is a crime.
As previously reported by the Inquisitr, U.S. Army soldier Lindsey Faith Lowery was exposed to this level of ridicule after she claimed to have led an infantry unit. Lowery was later vindicated of all charges by Guardians of Valor, a different organization than the one that vetted me. I was vetted by the Fake Warrior Project.
The Washington Post reported that veterans need to be careful before calling out another person for stolen valor because they could not only be wrong, but they could also subject another veteran to ridicule and harassment. Robert D. Ford, 75, was a Marine who was unjustly accused of stolen valor after he wore his uniform to a wreath laying ceremony.
Of course, whenever these accusations are proven to be false, those who make them never come forward to apologize or set the record straight even when they have caused harm. In my case, the silver lining in the matter was that it forced me to deal with my triggers and heal the underlying feelings and emotions that were driving my post-traumatic stress and depression.
It doesn’t matter if those who attacked me in the veterans community know the truth or not because it’s easy to hide behind a computer and attack other people. What is important to understand here is that when accusations like these are made, it further divides the veterans’ community. On the one hand, those who make such vicious accusations are often the ones who are complaining about Veterans Affairs and stirring up trouble at the VA. Who wants to help veterans like that?
For me, the price was just too high. Although I got well, I was bitter for a long time. With my military background, my skills are exactly what veterans need to help them get their claims processed, as well as access their other benefits because I am well trained in research and clerical. It only took me 58 days to get my paperwork completely processed for everything I needed at the VA Hospital because I knew how to get paperwork done quickly. It’s not a skill I’m now willing to share because of my negative experience in the veterans’ community.
The other side of the coin is that those who make such accusations against veterans could eventually find themselves in legal hot water for holding other veterans up to ridicule and public hate. Stolen valor is a crime, and it should be. Holding an honorably discharged veteran up to ridicule and public hatred is too when the veteran in question is innocent.
[Image via Pixabay]