A law designed to punish those who boast battlefield medals for heroics they never performed passed the Senate on Monday, marking the second bid by Congress to outlaw lying about war records.
The first so-called Stolen Valor Law was declared unconstitutional in June by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that lying about military service was protected speech.
This time around lawmakers have anchored the law on lying about awards and decorations for "tangible benefit or personal gain," not strictly lying for the sake of lying. The bill was filed by Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., a Vietnam combat veteran, shortly after the high court knocked down the original 2006 law.
"For someone who has not served to come in and get material benefit from something they did not do is just not right," Webb said in an interview with Norfolk TV station WTKR in July, when he filed the legislation that is now set to become part of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act.
The House of Representatives already passed its own version of the law, so final language has to be worked out before it can be signed. Under the Senate version anyone found guilty of violating the Stolen Valor law would be fined and possibly jailed for not more than 6 months, or both. The House version would put violators in jail for up to a year.
The new law states that benefits include any provided by the local, state or federal government for military service, earn a job, run for elective office, or attain an appointment to a board or position on a non-profit.
Webb's bill was cosponsored by Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.
The 2006 version of the Stolen Valor Act made it a crime to make any false statements claiming military awards and decorations.
A California man, Xavier Alvarez, was convicted of violating the law for claiming to have earned the Medal of Honor. He was ordered to pay a $5,000 fine but appealed the case up to the Supreme Court, which struck it down.
Webb and others argued the law is necessary to protect the integrity of military decorations, since those who earn them are held in high regard by the public. False claims of receiving such medals or serving in the military, the bill language states, "are especially likely to be harmful and material to employers, voters in deciding to whom paid elective positions should be entrusted, and in the award of contracts."
"Military service and military awards are held in such great respect that public and private decisions are correctly influenced by claims of heroism," the bill states, arguing that making false claims about military service and heroism are "an especially noxious means of obtaining something of value."