Lying About War Decorations Not a Federal Crime: Court | NBC 7 San Diego

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Lying About War Decorations Not a Federal Crime: Court

The Stolen Valor Act was aimed at people making phony claims of heroism in battle



    In its ruling in U.S. v. Alvarez, the Supreme Court on Thursday struck down the federal 2006 Stolen Valor Act, which made it unlawful to make false claims about military honor.

    Lying about your military record may be disrespectful but it's not a federal crime.

    U.S. Supreme Court justices voted 6-3 in favor of Xavier Alvarez, a former local elected official in California who falsely said he was a decorated war veteran and had pleaded guilty to violating the 2006 law, known as the Stolen Valor Act.

    The law, enacted when the U.S. was at war in Afghanistan and Iraq, was aimed at people making phony claims of heroism in battle.

    B.G. "Jug" Burkett, the Vietnam veteran whose book, "Stolen Valor," inspired the law, said he was disappointed with the ruling.

    "It kind of blows my mind," Burkett said. "The Medal of Honor! The vast majority of the people who were awarded that were killed in action in the service of their country, and we can't protect that decoration from disrespect?"

    Retired Marine Lt. Col. Jack Harkins had a 35-year career and served in Vietnam, Somalia and as a drill instructor at MCAS Miramar.

    He told NBC 7 San Diego he wasn’t surprised by the ruling given the First Amendment right for a person to say what they want about themselves.

    However, he said it's not an open invitation to those who want to dupe others.

    “No one should think that this opens the way for them to make false claims about military service any more than it opens the way for them to make false claims of being a federal justice,” he said.

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     There have been several cases in San Diego where men have been accused of posing as a decorated war veteran.

    Richard Strandlof was accused of presenting himself as a 9/11 attack survivor, an Iraq war veteran and a Silver Star recipient.

    In 2010, David Weber of Ramona pleaded guilty to posing as a Marine general when, in fact, he ended his military career as a staff sergeant.

    Then, there was "Colonel Thom" a man who raised eyebrows among several local residents when he appeared at charity events wearing the Air Force Cross.

    Harkins feels like it’s important for members of the community and military personnel to openly question those who they feel are falsely portraying themselves as decorated war veterans.

    “All along it’s public scrutiny that’s the best deterrent, even better than a statute,” Harkins said. 

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