Fake military medal claims carry penalty under new law


Moffat County Veterans Service Officer

Legislation first proposed by U.S. Rep. John Salazar making it a crime to falsely claim the right to carry any military decoration or medal became law Jan. 4 with President Bush's signature.

"This day has been a long time in coming," said Salazar, D-Manassa. "The brave men and women who have earned awards for service to our country should not have those honors tarnished by frauds."

Salazar, a Vietnam War veteran, authored a bill he called the Stolen Valor Act at the urging of Colorado State University at Pueblo student Pam Sterner. She wrote a school paper about the lack of a law prohibiting anything other than" the false wearing of a war medal."

Under the new law, anyone who falsely claims to be a decorated military veteran can be punished with up to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine. The penalties are double for a claim involving the Distinguished Service Cross, Air Force Cross, Navy Cross, Silver Star or Purple Heart.

Movie changes

Salazar also changed the marketing of a movie. In the comedy "Wedding Crashers," characters played by Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn talk about using fake Purple Heart medals to get attention from women. Marketing for the movie included a fake, cutout Purple Heart. After Salazar complained, the film's producer, New Line Cinema, ended the promotional gimmick.

Military funeral protests

The Respect for Funerals of Fallen Heroes Act (S 4042) also passed in the Senate in mid-December. This act broadens the ban at all funerals of deceased members of the Armed Forces, not only at national cemeteries, but private cemeteries, funeral homes and houses of worship. The act will preserve the sanctity of American's fallen soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines by prohibiting demonstrations and protestations at and around military funerals services.

Earlier legislation [H.R. 5037] was enacted [PL 109-228] that only prohibited disruptions at national cemeteries. Such protests and demonstrations are inappropriate. They do a grave disservice to the men and women who have courageously served our country and paid the ultimate price. They and their families deserve privacy and the nation's profound respect. Dissent regarding the war can be held anywhere and at any time. This legislation should put an end to harassment and hate, while allowing grieving families protected comfort. These service members, and those since World War I, have died to protect our right to free speech. We just need to think and apply it at the appropriate time and place.

For information on these programs or other veterans benefits, call or stop in the Moffat County Veteran Service Officer office at 480 Barclay St., west of the Bank of Colorado parking lot, call 824-3246, or fax 824-7108. Our e-mail address is veterans@moffatcounty.net. The office is open from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Other times can be arranged by appointment only.

Bring a copy of your separation papers (DD-214) for application for VA programs and for filing at our office.

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