Mark Udall among lawmakers pushing for Stolen Valor replacement, easy detection websites

Last month, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the national Stolen Valor Act of 2006. That decision led to the dismissal of charges against local college student Rick Strandlof ("Will the real Rick Strandlof please stand up?"), whose friends became suspicious when he pretended to be a Marine Corps captain who had won the Purple Heart and Silver Star. But while Stolen Valor is currently defunct, it might not be for long: Various lawmakers are already pushing a replacement.

One of these pieces of legislation, called the Military Service Integrity Act of 2012, would make it illegal for fake veterans to profit from their falsified service -- from donations, new social or professional standing, etc -- and re-navigate the issue of forbidding the sale, trade or export of military medals unless federally approved. The proposal, introduced by Virginia Senator Jim Webb, has gained staunch support from Colorado's Mark Udall, who co-sponsored the Stolen Valor Act in 2006.

"Allowing individuals to falsely portray themselves as veterans or recipients of highly respected awards, like the Purple Heart, cheapens the sacrifices of actual veterans," Udall said in a statement. "Congress needs to act in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision to protect the image and integrity of our troops and veterans -- and to protect taxpayers and voters from those who would profit from their false claims of service. The American people expect no less. The Military Service Integrity Act will ensure that the sacrifices and valor of those who have served are not cheapened by those who benefit from others' service and sacrifices."

Last month, however, the Supreme Court rejected the idea that fake medal winners provide measurable damage to other veterans. Under Stolen Valor, those caught lying about a military medal they had not earned could face up to one year in prison. In reviewing the law, the county's highest court called these lies "contemptible" but ruled that the ability to say them is protected by the 1st Amendment.

"The Nation well knows that one of the costs of the First Amendment is that it protects the speech we detest as well as the speech we embrace," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the court's decision. "Though few might find (Alvarez's) statements anything but contemptible, his right to make those statements is protected by the Constitution's guarantee of freedom of speech and expression. The Stolen Valor Act infringes upon speech protected by the First Amendment."

In the wake of the decision, many lawmakers revisited the issue to narrow the law's scope and address the areas of value and profit broached by the Supreme Court. The newly proposed replacements specifically target false veterans who benefited in some way from their fake service.

Meanwhile, Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown and Nevada Representative Joe Heck announced a renewed attempt to pass the Stolen Valor Act of 2011, which Heck introduced last year.

Others argue that the best protection against stolen valor is an easy method through which to detect it. The likes of Doug Sterner, archivist for the Military Times' Hall of Valor, hope to make it simple and practical to discover lies through a quick online search.

And President Barack Obama agrees: On Monday, he announced plans for the federal government to establish a comprehensive database, what he calls a "living memorial." Since 2001, the White House has maintained complete lists of Medal of Honor and Service Cross recipients, but it has been "lax" about lesser medals, Sterner says. Launched yesterday, the government's new site lists the winners of all of the military's top awards. In time, it will expand to include a greater variety.

More from our Politics archive: "Stolen Valor was born in Colorado before dying with the Supreme Court."

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Kelsey Whipple
Contact: Kelsey Whipple