The admiration the American civilian population gives to U.S. servicemembers is truly heartwarming. They support the troops and often stop men and women in uniform in the middle of the street to shake their hand. Some even pick up a servicemember’s tab at a restaurant to show gratitude. It’s courtesies like these that make walking around in uniform worthwhile. Courtesies like these also make people pretend to be servicemembers so they can get glory, recognition, discounts, or even just a free meal.
What is Stolen Valor?
The term Stolen Valor comes from a law first signed in 2005, by President George Bush. The law made it illegal to pretend to have received an award or medal while serving in the military. In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional on the grounds that it violated the First Amendment right of free speech. The Stolen Valor Act was reborn in 2013, this time making it a crime to have received military honors with the intent to receive money or other tangible benefits. Technically someone could still claim to be a war hero and not be penalized, just as long as it’s not for gain.
There are many viral videos out there that show real military members “outing” people who have “stolen valor.” Usually the imposters are wearing uniforms that are out of regulation, they aren’t wearing nametapes, or a 24-year old is wearing the rank of a Lieutenant General. These videos enrage many current servicemembers or veterans because they believe (correctly so) that military honors should be respected.
Not every servicemember leaves the military with awards and decorations; it takes special skills, bravery, and sacrifice.
Impersonating others isn’t a new idea. People pretend to be celebrities, journalists, policemen, doctors, and pilots every day. The goal is usually to get money or special access that they otherwise wouldn’t receive.
Pretending to have received military awards is different because in order to receive them you have to do something extraordinary. Not to say that other professions don’t do extraordinary things on a daily basis.
Cops, firemen, and doctors save lives every day. But, war heroes, such as Medal of Honor recipients, save lives in terrible, unbelievable, dangerous conditions. They often end up saving several people or entire camps. These tremendous acts aren’t something that they’re necessarily trained for. Sure, they know how to shoot a gun or drag a soldier out of harms way, but to position themselves in a selfless way to save others can’t be taught.
People impersonate military members for a number of reasons: to impress their friends or strangers and to get as much free stuff as they can. It’s no secret that a long list of stores and restaurants offer military discounts. Whether it’s a free meal on Veteran’s Day or free coffee from a local coffee shop every Monday, all a servicemember has to do is show up in uniform and he or she is in business.
What to Do If You See Someone with Stolen Valor
If you see someone who is clearly not a servicemember and you feel strongly about questioning them, politely ask them questions about their service.
Ask them what service they are in, where they were stationed, and what their rank is. If they can’t answer these basic questions they might be stealing valor.
Even if they are imposters, there’s no reason to yell or berate them. There’s a fine line between embarrassing someone in a bar and verbal assault. By reacting violently or publicly shaming the impersonator you’re essentially embarrassing your own service. If you believe someone is falsely representing him- or herself as an honored servicemember to get things for free, you can report them to proper authorities.