first published on April 20, 2017 by Josh
America has traditionally held a fascination with all things military, whether it’s collecting old medals and firearms, or visiting historical sites. Generally this intrigue is innocent enough and serves as nothing more than a hobby. In recent history there has been a light shed on a small sad segment of our culture, one that commits to impersonating our military men and women in an attempt to reap some sort of benefit. The desired benefits can vary drastically; some are civilians hoping to have their gas paid for, while others are veterans lying about their injuries to scam enough money to pay for pro golf lessons.
The most laughable of these people are the ones looking for a cheap handout, they have been seen on many viral videos wearing a mismatched uniform claiming to be an Army Ranger. Sure, it’s irritating to see these idiots rolling in to Dunkin’ Donuts looking like they just robbed the local surplus store, but the veteran community isn’t sending the right message when it humiliates them on camera for the entire world to see. These clowns already look ridiculous as they try to get a free coffee in their conundrum of a uniform. No one in their right mind believes this person is a veteran, and no one is going to buy their coffee. Even in the environment of heightened veteran sensitivity, these people should be viewed as harmless clowns. They certainly aren’t worth the stigma that the veteran community is slowly earning with every recorded confrontation.
Not all offenders are completely fabricating their service. Many of these people did serve in some capacity, and are simply exaggerating what that capacity may have been. These guys are looking for someone to buy them free drinks and listen to them tell stories of heroism, it’s all about the attention. There are two key indicators shared by these attention seekers. The first is that they are telling war stories to people they barely know, this normally occurs at a bar or some other social event. A combat veteran will rarely ever announce their service in this setting, let alone discuss the most intense moments of their lives with strangers. The second is the vagueness of the story being told; a tale that contains all of the expected action, but is lacking in detail. There is no way to measure the honesty of an individual without having similar knowledge or experiences, and therefore most civilians don’t catch the lie. To other veterans these individuals are simultaneously annoying and humorous, but they rarely capitalize monetarily from their false tales. They dishonor their fellow veterans with every lie, and are much more deserving of outrage than the Master Colonel at Dunkin; these veterans know better.
Stolen Valor is essentially when an individual presents them self as an active service member or a decorated veteran, who has received specific awards, and has gained a tangible benefit from their false claims of service. These individuals are manipulators, and they are using the reputation and benefits of military service for their own selfish gains. Both civilians and veterans commit stolen valor; in fact it is far simpler for a veteran to commit than for a civilian. A veteran can simply disguise their lie by intertwining it with their legitimate service. Slap on a few extra medals and tell some war stories, plus they have the comfort of knowing that almost no one is going to question them.
A civilian would have a difficult time fabricating the kind of evidence needed to receive any tangible benefit from faked military service, and most don’t have enough knowledge to know what to lie about. These are the people that are seen at the airport and apparently did enough research to learn how to wear a uniform, but not enough to learn the order in which to set up the medals, or that a master sergeant will have more than two service stripes. Looking like an idiot is not a crime, and if the individual isn’t crafty enough to get the order of their medals correct, then they most likely aren’t capable a forging the necessary material (DD214) to gain tangible benefits. These people are disgusting in their own way and certainly don’t deserve to disrespect the uniform, but there are worse people out there; the people that are deserving of the full focus and anger of the veteran community.
The really disgusting offenders leave much more damage in their wake than simply angering a veteran at the bus stop. The real offenders are in deep; they have lied for years to their friends and family. They have made connections based on their “service”, and they benefit from veterans charities, some even squeeze out VA benefits. These twisted individuals will reach out to families of the fallen and claim to have served with them, offering comfort and shared heartache. They will drag their own loved ones out in search of a grave that they know does not exist, just to keep up appearances. The outcomes of all of the stories of real stolen valor are gut wrenching. These are the people that really deserve the attention, and they are the reason that stolen valor hits so hard.
It’s a slippery slope when deciding whether or not to confront an individual who might really be lying about their service. These people have the details, they have the names, and they seem to have the history, but something seems off about them. No one wants to be the person who makes the accusation and gets it wrong. There is a level of trust that is expected between veterans, anyone who is lying this egregiously is well aware of that trust, and is counting on it to be a veil that they can hide behind. It’s very likely that the trolls living these lies fall under the suspicion of every real veteran that they meet, but the benefit of the doubt prevents most people from acting on their suspicion. The freedom of information act is an incredible tool; a name, birthday, and approximate time-frame of service is all that’s needed to confirm any doubts.
Calling the bluff will upset everyone who has a meaningful relationship with the offender, and there is a good chance that the accuser will receive the lion’s share of outrage in the long run. For many, the lie will have run so deep and for so long that allowing it to continue will be easier than facing the fallout. Many people lack the fortitude to act on their instincts about someone close to them because of the disruption it will cause in their lives. The law and technology have made it possible to check out an individual without making a scene, and the person will never know that their information was requested.
Stolen Valor is a serious issue that requires tactful investigation, and equally serious action. It is a backhand to the service and sacrifice of the veteran community and is deserving of its anger. Calling out the guy in gym shorts and a Multi-cam blouse isn’t serious action, its crying wolf. Doing the hard things, making the right choices, and asking the tough questions will send a more meaningful message. There is nothing wrong with accountability, but veterans need to give up on being offended by the wrong people. Perception is reality, and if veterans are perceived as sensitive or quick to over react, then unfortunately that becomes the reality. The real lies are as deep as they are tragic, and are much more deserving of the attention. If the veteran community wishes to be taken seriously, then it would do well to focus on situations that are actually serious.