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WASHINGTON — The Stolen Valor Act that makes it a federal crime to profit from falsely claiming to have received a military medal for valor is on its way to the White House for President Obama’s signature, thanks to the efforts of two Nevadans.
Sponsored by Rep. Joe Heck and Sen. Dean Heller, both Nevada Republicans, the bipartisan measure passed the Senate by unanimous consent on Wednesday after passing the House of Representatives on Monday.
Under the bill, it’s a federal crime to benefit from knowingly lying about receiving certain valorous military medals and awards. Maximum punishment would be a fine of up to $100,000 and up to one year in prison for each offense.
It does not apply to every medal. Specifically covered are the Medal of Honor, service crosses, Silver Star, Purple Heart and combat badges such as Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Combat Action Badge, Combat Medical Badge, Combat Action Ribbon, or Combat Action Medal.
Claiming to have received one of the awards becomes fraudulent if the liar obtains or tries to obtain money, property or some other tangible benefit. For example, claiming to be a combat veteran on a job application or to receive a government contract set aside for a veterans would be fraud, as would receiving unearned veterans’ disability or health benefits if any of the combat-related awards used to qualify for those benefits were falsely claimed.
“Our nation can never fully express our gratitude for all that our men and women in uniform have experienced on our behalf,” said Heller. “Their acts of valor helped to ensure the safety and security of our national. The honor of their awards should never be compromised.”
Innocent mistakes by a veteran would not necessarily lead to prosecution because the legislation requires the intent to commit fraud.
The national’s largest organization for combat veterans, Veterans of Foreign Wars, is happy to see the bill pass, said spokesman Joe Davis. It would “ensure all con artists pay a stiff penalty for stealing the valor of those few who survived and of the many who did not.”
“There can be no extenuating circumstances or pity for these liars and cheats, just well publicized punishments to the fullest extent of the law,” Davis said, urging the Senate to pass the bill.
Heck, an Army Reserve colonel who has been selected for promotion to brigadier general, has been trying to get the bill passed since 2012 when the Supreme Court struck down an earlier law that made it a federal crime to just lie about receiving a military medal. In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled that the law interfered with free speech rights under the First Amendment.
To get around free-speech concerns, Heck crafted a bill that does not make it illegal to lie about military service, but only to profit from the lie.
In a statement, Heck’s office said the revised bill “should now withstand constitutional scrutiny because the legislation narrowly focuses on those who seek to benefit from their misrepresentations of the receipt of military awards, not the lie itself.”