Stolen Valor Act is struck down again. But does that matter?

Three meritorious and valor medals of the U.S. military

To set the stage for this discussion, a brief history of the Stolen Valor Act is needed.

The Stolen Valor Act of 2005 made it a federal misdemeanor to falsely represent oneself as having received any U.S. military decoration or medal.”

But, on June 28, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court in a 6-3 vote, struck down the act, ruling that it was an unconstitutional abridgment of the freedom of speech under the First Amendment.

Needless to say, veterans were outraged!

Indeed, Brandon Webb, a former SEAL. told ABC News it especially angered him “seeing people take advantage of unknowing good people who are trusting in their story, [people who] use people to get money out of them, get positions.”

Along with Don Shipley, another former SEAL, both said, that if nothing else, the lies are disparaging to the memory of the true heroes lost in the line of fire.”

Then the Stolen Valor Act of 2013 (Pub.L. 113–12; H.R. 258) was re-written supposedly to address the travesty to us veterans.

However, what most don’t know is that the law amends the federal criminal code to make it a crime for a person to fraudulently claim having received any of a series of particular military decorations and awards with the intention of obtaining money, property, or other tangible benefit from convincing someone that he or she rightfully did receive that award.

This law was re-enforced when a “specially convened 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the First Amendment allows people to wear unearned military honors.”

This was the reason veterans were outraged in the first place. Free speech was reaffirmed but many of us veterans were still not happy about it.

Free speech meant idiotic impostors could still lie with a straight face to everyone about the medals they “earned”?

One Army veteran (Lt. Col., ret.), a helicopter pilot who served 3 tours in Vietnam, opined:

Now anyone can put all the military medals on his shirt he wants to and say they are his and he won them, without reprisal from court marshal or any legal actions.  The SCOTUS has ruled that this falls under the concept of free speech.  We have been screwed once again.”

However, it turns out that the issue appears to have been misunderstood by all: veterans as well as law enforcement agencies.

A Department of Defense (DoD) document entitled, Important Information and Guidelines About the Use of Department of Defense Seals, Logos, Insignia, and Service Medals (dated 16 October 2015) tells all that the Lanham Act (Pub.L. 79–489, 60 Stat. 42, (AKA, the Trademark Act), passed by Congress in 1946, states

Military Service marks are protected by law from unauthorized use.” This means anyone wearing military medals is violating established federal law.

So why all the fuss about Stolen Valor Act being struck down by our courts when it’s already illegal?

Because no one knows about the Trademark Act.

Bottom line? Anyone wearing medals to which they never earned, are violating established law: no Stolen Valor Act was ever needed.

The question is: who is going to enforce the law and to whom do we report the travesty?

Here are three websites that will assist everyone in the fight against these liars who falsely claim what we veterans have rightfully earned.

1. In 2012, President Obama announced a website would be initiated by the Department of Defense. The site lists all of the recipients of the top three valor awards for all services.

2. More importantly, Stolen Valor has listed a wealth of the information on How to spot a fake and Where to report a “faker”.

And, finally,

3. Guardian Of Valor, whose mission is “to out those who falsely claim Military service and/or claim unauthorized medals or tabs. It may be your First Amendment right to lie about service to this country, and medals earned, but it is our First Amendment right to show the world your lies. Our admins are a group of Active and Veteran service members that want to protect the Uniforms of the services and the Valor, Integrity and Honor that comes with that.”

Now we have the tools to report false claims of military medals or ribbons (i.e., tabs). It is really up to us look for, identify, and report those who would take away the integrity due us for our service to our country.

So let’s get to it!

Chuck Yarling has had many titles in his career thus far: veteran, engineer, math teacher, consultant, technical writer, book author and publisher, and triathlete. He was a member the Military Order of the Purple Heart and Bugles Across America, which plays Taps at military funerals and special events. Spec. 5 Chuck Yarling served with the 26th Combat Engineering Battalion in Vietnam as an awards clerk. His service with the U.S. Army resulted in being awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Army Commendation Medal. You may reach Chuck at [email protected]