The latest case of stolen valor to hit the news was self-acclaimed Green Beret war hero, Papotia Reginald Wright, who had created a group called the “8th Special Forces Regiment New York Honor Guard.” He claimed to have earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, among other awards he was never actually awarded. Though he was in the Army for eight years, he never served in a Special Forces capacity (or any combat capacity for that matter), and never rose past the rank of E-4 (specialist). Wright claimed 25 years of service and the rank of Command Sergeant Major.
Congress passed the “Stolen Valor Act of 2013,” and it serves to penalize people like Wright the second they stand to make some kind of financial benefit from their lies. First, it is important to understand that it is NOT a crime to simply claim an award or claim military service when there was none — these are protected by the first amendment, the freedom of speech, and is the reason why the original Stolen Valor Act of 2005 was replaced.
However, the revamped 2013 act tackled the issue under a new pretext — if someone claims medal or service for monetary gain (or some other measurable, tangible profit), it can be considered fraud. Some of these medals include the Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Silver Star, Purple Heart, CIB, CAB, CMB and more.
But that just describes what is technically illegal, and just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s moral, and also doesn’t mean people can’t do anything about it. There are still plenty of organizations out there to expose and shame those who claim awards and ranks they never earned.