'Stolen Valor Act' Shot Down by High Court
A Texas man who helped lead the charge for Congress to pass a law against so-called military "fakers" said he was disappointed the Supreme Court had struck it down Thursday.
B.G. "Jug" Burkett, a Vietnam veteran and co-author of 1998's "Stolen Valor," told Military.com he thought the court might toss out the portion of the act making it a crime to "verbally" claim being awarded medals and decorations, but not the entire law.
"I'm disappointed. You've got people out there that can claim the highest decorations in the land and there's no way to legally stop them from doing so," he said.
Burkett's view is widely shared by veterans' organizations.
"The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. is greatly disappointed in today's Supreme Court decision that overturns the Stolen Valor Act of 2005," VFW Commander in Chief Richard Denoyer said in a statement released shortly after the court's announcement.
In a ruling written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court determined that the act was too broad for seeking to "control and suppress all false statements on this one subject in almost limitless times and settings without regard to whether the lie was made for the purpose of material gain."
For the court to decide that lying about military service and decorations was a criminal offense would essentially endorse the government compiling "a list of subjects about which false statements are punishable. That governmental power has no clear limiting principle," he wrote.
The ruling did not come as a surprise to retired Master Sgt. Jeff Hinton, who also exposes phony vets and troops who exaggerate their combat experience.
"I expected no less from bureaucrats, politicians and lawyers," said Hinton, a former Green Beret who operates the website Professionalsoldiers.com. "As always the United States military will protect its own. We will continue to uphold the honor and integrity of our veterans service ourselves."
Likewise, Denoyer said: "Despite the ruling, the VFW will continue to challenge far-fetched stories, and to publicize these false heroes to the broadest extent possible as a deterrent to others."
Burkett has spent years doing just that on his own website, StolenValor.com. Along with a team that includes three former Navy SEALs, he routinely exposes and publishes stories about people who claim to be war heroes or have earned ranks or decorations they didn't.
Additionally, Burkett investigates reports of phony veterans who have been able to get into the Department of Veterans Affairs system and draw benefits. He said he turns those reports over to the VA for further investigation and prosecution.
Burkett was an investment counselor in Dallas when he began looking into questionable claims being made by men about service in Vietnam, where he had served with the Army's 199th Light Infantry Brigade. He found cases of phony veterans spinning stories of heroism and even atrocities.
Along with Texas Monthly writer Glenna Whitley, he authored "Stolen Valor," which in 2005 then-Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., borrowed as the title for legislation making it illegal to impersonate servicemembers and falsely claim awards. The law made it a federal misdemeanor to misrepresent yourself as a recipient of a military medal or decoration. The crime was punishable by up to six months in jail for all but the Medal of Honor, which carried jail time of up to a year.
"I'm hoping Congress will re-craft a new [Stolen Valor] law to make it even stronger," Burkett said. "I can't imagine you can't craft a law that makes impersonating a servicemember a felony. They do it for police officers. Why not the military?"