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A Houston-area Army veteran who claimed to be a combat-tested Special Forces soldier and Silver Star recipient has been charged with a federal crime for falsifying his military discharge papers.
A federal grand jury on Thursday indicted Paul A. Schroeder, 40, of The Woodlands, who is accused of unlawfully possessing and exhibiting a certificate of discharge from the military, "knowing the same to be forged, counterfeited, or falsely altered." The misdemeanor charge carries a penalty of up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
Schroeder played a high-profile role in Houston's veteran community as the former director of counseling at PTSD Foundation of America, a local nonprofit. He mentored veterans suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder and led group therapy sessions at churches, community colleges and the Star of Hope Mission. He also lectured at the Houston Police Academy as part of a post-traumatic stress awareness program for officers and cadets.
Schroeder resigned from the foundation in February after confessing to a Houston Chronicle reporter that he had lied about his record. He never deployed, never served in Special Operations, and never earned a Silver Star, Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman's Badge or other decorations he claimed.
Schroeder could not be reached for comment Friday. A warrant has been issued for his arrest.
Thursday's indictment was filed in U.S. District Court in Houston on the same day the U.S. Supreme Court struck down The Stolen Valor Act, a 2005 law that made it illegal for people to wear military medals they had not earned or to lie about having been awarded such medals.
In a 6-3 decision, the high court ruled that false statements about military honors are "contemptible" but protected by the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech.
Schroeder's case demonstrates how people who lie about their military records and medals still can face prosecution under existing laws for fraud or forgery, regardless of the Supreme Court decision.
Schroeder is not affected by Thursday's ruling because he is charged with a different crime: altering a military discharge certificate, or DD-214.
He presented the forged document to the Houston Police Department and used it to receive Silver Star license plates from the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, said HPD Capt. Gregory Fremin. Police turned the DD-214 over to FBI agents, who opened an investigation, Fremin said.
For years, Schroeder had portrayed himself as a highly decorated Special Forces sergeant first class who suffered from PTSD after serving in combat in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa and Central and South America. But Army records show that Schroeder really spent 10 years as a military policeman stationed in New York, Panama and Texas. He left the Army as a sergeant in February 2001, before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan even started.
HPD's Fremin called Schroeder's alleged deceit "a serious betrayal" and "disgraceful."
"A lot of veterans put their faith and trust in Paul Schroeder," said Fremin, a Marine Corps veteran. "They shared with him their most intimate secrets of pain and heartache, and now to know that the person they were talking to was a fraud, it's hard to measure the irreparable harm that has been caused to these young men and women who have opened up their hearts to him."
In an interview with the newspaper in February, Schroeder said he didn't know why he misled people about his service record and medals.
"You can call it a desperate act of a desperate man," he said. "... I'm trying to do the honorable thing now."
PTSD Foundation's chairman Gene Birdwell and its director of operations, Pastor David Maulsby, did not reply to requests for comment.