Lawmakers agree to limit power to revoke military awards

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Marine Corps Times: The House Armed Services Committee approved on Wednesday a proposal to restrict service secretaries’ ability to revoke valor awards as an amendment to the National Defense Authorization bill.

The amendment would bar appointees like Army Secretary John McHugh from stripping a combat medal for actions not related to the event for which the award was presented — a sharp departure from current Army regulations.

Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., wrote and promoted the proposal in response to the Army’s move to strip Maj. Matt Golsteyn’s Silver Star without any formal charges presented. The amendment still needs to survive House-wide and then Senate scrutiny before the massive annual defense bill can be signed into law by President Obama.

While it passed a voice vote, some HASC members opposed the change, which still allows secretaries to revoke valor awards but bars consideration of anything “outside of the actual time period covered by the award.”

Ranking member Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., did not question the merits of Golsteyn’s case but rather the idea of making a law because of it.

“As they say in law, ‘tough cases make bad law.’ This does not address just this individual case. This says under no circumstances once a service award is given can it be taken away, which sort of opens up the hypothetical universe,” Smith said to the committee.

If it emerged that an award had been based on inaccurate information, but there was no misconduct, the rule would tie the secretary’s hands, Smith said. He added that it would bar revocation of a valor award even if, for example, the service member later committed multiple murders or joined Islamic State.

Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., a brigadier general for medical command in the Army Reserves, also opposed the change.

“This is changing how awards are revoked not just in this case, but across the board,” Heck said.

Heck cited U.S. law which says such an honor cannot be presented to anyone “whose service after he distinguished himself has not been honorable.” He also noted the Army regulation — also cited by McHugh’s letter — explaining his decision, which explicitly allows the secretary to retroactively enforce that provision.

Heck also said that there was a general officer memorandum of reprimand put in Golsteyn’s file, and that there is an appeal process through Human Resources Command.

 Hunter fundamentally disagreed with the relevant law and policy.

“There are probably people in jail now that are most proud of the one thing they did in their life. And it might have been on the battlefield … you can’t take that away from them, no matter what they might have done afterwards,” Hunter said. “If it took place two weeks later I don’t think you should be able to revoke it. That act that that person did for their brothers and sisters in arms is forever.”

Hunter spokesman Joe Kasper noted that the language was toned down from anearlier bill that would have revoked service secretaries’ right to strip an award under any circumstances.

The proposal, Hunter acknowledged, will not affect the case of Golsteyn, who is scheduled to begin a board of inquiry hearing on May 18 where he will fight the Army’s efforts to kick him out for the publicly unstated charges.

Video of the debate before the passage of the amendment starts at 3:28:40 on the HASC YouTube channel.

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