What is Military Stolen Valor - Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino

So-called stolen valor is a hot topic in military communities, but it’s not illegal except in very limited cases – but that doesn’t stop people from all over the country from donning a military uniform and claiming veteran status.

What is “Stolen Valor”?

Legally, stolen valor is the act of fraudulently claiming to be a recipient of certain military decorations or medals in order to obtain money, property or other tangible benefits. President Barack Obama signed it into law in 2013, which makes it a crime punishable by fines and jail time.

But that’s the only time stolen valor is illegal.

Other times, it’s just irritating to military service members.

There are entire websites dedicated to exposing military phonies who claim previous or current military service in order to reap the benefits it provides. Only a fraction of the people caught “stealing” valor are ever prosecuted; some apologize after they’re caught, and others simply double-down on their claims.

There are two types of people who engage in acts of stolen valor: Those who have never been in the military at all and those who have been, but choose to embellish their service records. The only thing the two groups have in common is that they’re lying about their service.

Thousands of people have been exposed over the past several years, ranging from judges and politicians to celebrities, veterans group officials and everyday Joes. Some of the most recent – but not the most egregious – include a New Jersey man who claimed to be a former prisoner of war to get a free deck installed on his home valued at $32,000 and a former police officer who falsely claimed he received the military’s prestigious Purple Heart medal (only awarded for wounds sustained in combat) to get free license plate.

Organizations like Guardian of Valor compile video footage of actual military veterans and service members confronting stolen valor suspects, while websites like Guardians of the Green Beret and This Ain’t Hell keep stolen valor galleries packed with the photos and stories of people they’ve outed as liars and embellishers.

What Do You Think?

Do you think it should be illegal for civilians to pose as current or former military personnel? I’d love to hear your take on it, so please share your thoughts on my Facebook page or on Twitter!

Carlos Gamino