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Misstating your military record may be a crime

Written by: Federal Practice Group
Written by: Federal Practice Group

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Military service members who have served with distinction in a number of areas are recognized by the award of various medals and ribbons. Some examples include the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, the Air Force Cross, the Silver Star, the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman's Badge, the Combat Action Badge, the Combat Medical Badge, the Combat Action Ribbon, and the Combat Action Medal.

Soldiers and sailors who have earned these recognitions are rightfully proud of their accomplishments. Military awards are intended to recognize an aspect of the soldier’s or sailor’s conduct that the military deems noteworthy. Most conduct that is acknowledged in this way can be seen as an indication of deeper character traits that will remain with the service member throughout their military service and beyond. In addition to the sacrifices their military service entailed, veterans can also legitimately be proud to speak of their military awards and decorations beyond their service and into their civilian life.

Civilian society also recognizes the honor these awards confer, as well as the accompanying presumption of beneficial character traits. In some situations this recognition can translate to a tangible benefit – for example, in a job application, a political campaign, or other area of public discourse.

Because of the tangible benefit that can accompany these awards, unscrupulous individuals have been known to inflate their awards or outright lie about having received them. Congress responded to this in 2005 with passage of the Stolen Valor Act of 2005. That law made it a federal misdemeanor to represent oneself falsely as having received any U.S. military decoration or medal. If convicted, a defendant faced imprisonment for up to six months, unless the lie concerned the Medal of Honor, for which imprisonment could reach up to one year.

The Stolen Valor Act of 2005 was challenged in United States v. Alvarez on First Amendment grounds as being an unconstitutional abridgment of free speech rights. The Supreme Court ultimately struck down the law in a 6 to 3 decision. (The defendant in the case remained imprisoned on fraud charges notwithstanding the invalidation of the Stolen Valor Act of 2005.) Congress responded to the Supreme Court decision by passing the Stolen Valor Act of 2013, which sought to address the constitutional defects identified by the Supreme Court.

A more recent but arguably higher profile example of misstating a military record occurred when Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald claimed in January that he had served in the special forces when in fact he had not. After the claim was reported by The Huffington Post on February 23, Secretary McDonald apologized. However, his misstatement came on the heels of a heated exchange a few weeks earlier with Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Colo., a 22-year Marine Corps veteran and the only member of Congress to have served in both Iraq wars, when Secretary McDonald challenged Rep. Coffman’s military service during McDonald’s appearance before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, on which Rep. Coffman serves.

In response to Secretary McDonald’s misstatement, Rep. Mike Coffman called it an error but doesn't detract from his legitimate and honorable service.

Although these are higher-profile examples of misstating one’s military record, it is equally important for all military service members to state their record accurately. It is also just as important for those who have worked hard to earn their military pay and entitlements that their record accurately reflect what they earned. Unfortunately, the military does not always maintain an accurate record of a soldier’s or sailor’s service. The military may also refuse to grant a service member his or her pay, retirement, or benefits as earned. Sometimes this is the result of a clerical error, and sometimes it is the result of a policy being inaccurately applied.

Whatever the reason for the inaccurate records, the attorneys at The Federal Practice Group have extensive experience with military records correction. They are knowledgeable about the process from start to finish. These records range from military pay, military retirement, military benefits, military disability ratings, and other types of records. If your military record is not accurate, or if you are not receiving the correct military pay, retirement, benefits, or disability, contact the military records correction attorneys at The Federal Practice Group today for a case evaluation.

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