You all know of my lifelong involvement with the Boy Scouts of America. You're probably aware that the highest award a scout can earn is the rank of Eagle. Of course, you know that the Eagle is the symbol of these United States.
These are all connected...throughout much of my adult Scouting career, I've answered many queries if I'm an Eagle; and always the answer is a definitive NO. I've gone out of my way to correct everyone at every turn who thinks that I am. Like most Scouters, I also have a vast collection of memorabilia, whether it's hats, pins, patches, or mugs, and with a lone exception, none of the things I have even have so much as a feather on them of the said Eagle. (The only exception is the Eagle Patrol patch that I have on my jacket; it represents my days as a member of the Aquila District staff. Aquila being a constellation called "The Eagle".)
It's a matter of honor for me; I've helped many young men achieve their rank, and I know what level of commitment and work it entails. Dedication that I sadly did not have as a youth member of this organization. I regret it more with each passing season, but I would never dream of making such a false claim of ownership, and it's why I have no Eagle scouting memorabilia.
But there are those among us that wouldn't think twice about making false claims for whatever reason...whether it's to impress someone, make themselves look better for a job or election prospect, or a matter of ego. Civilian claims are one thing, but there are those that claim to have been in combat, or to have medals they didn't earn, or indeed even to be members of the service that they never joined.
A couple in Knoxville, TN faked both military service and disabilities
for years to defraud Uncle Sam.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — With a decorated war hero regaling them with tales from the pages of military history — the Vietnam War, the rescue of a captured U.S. merchant cargo ship and the Iran hostage crisis, to name a few — these University of Tennessee students were reported to be enraptured.
"You can read about this stuff in history books, but he was there," one student told the Tennessee Journalist, a news website operated by UT's School of Journalism and Electronic Media, at the time of the April 2008 speech.
Turns out, he wasn't — according to a federal indictment unsealed Tuesday against Charles C. Kaczmarczyk, 59, and his wife, Martha Ann Kaczmarczyk, 62, of Knoxville.
The couple is charged in an eight-count indictment with conspiring to steal public money from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Social Security Administration over the past six years in a case likely to involve more than $100,000 in false benefits claims.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Bolitho wrote in the indictment that Charles Kaczmarczyk filed claims for disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder he said he suffered during his years of dangerous Special Operations missions, including the evacuation of Saigon in 1975, the rescue of U.S. merchant cargo ship by the Cambodian Khmer Rouge days later and the 1980 Iran hostage crisis.
As part of the scheme, he crafted fake Air Force documents "showing that he had earned numerous medals for his combat experience, including two Purple Hearts and two Silver Stars," Bolitho wrote.
His wife "actively assisted" him in carrying out the fraud, Bolitho alleged, and herself filed a false claim for a disabling back problem.
The case would have been ripe for prosecution under the Stolen Valor law, which made it a crime to pose as a war hero. But the U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down the law as unconstitutional, opining even lies about military service are protected under the First Amendment.
Kaczmarczyk passed himself off as a retired Air Force chief when he spoke to a gathering of UT students in 2008 and also tried to dupe his way into veterans groups with those same faked documents, medals and stories of heroism, according to various news sites and court records.
Military records show he was a low-level member of the Air Force from 1972 to 1984. He was stationed in Thailand, New Hampshire and Florida and never saw combat.
You'll not the reference to the Stolen Valor Act
, which was signed into law by President Bush in 2005. While it sounded like a great idea at the time, it's been subject to numerous legal challenges, and finally made the Supreme Court in this last session....where it was overturned on Freedom of Speech grounds.
The current President and the Pentagon were quick to react; within a matter of weeks, the Pentagon started a new website
to make it easier for civilians, employers, and anyone interested to check the veracity of all such medal claims.
The Department of Defense unveiled a new website Wednesday listing recent recipients of the Medal of Honor, the military's highest award for valor.
The site is aimed at verifying claims of meritorious service in the military, but reaches back only as far as awards earned on Sept. 11, 2001 and after. It will eventually include awards for service crosses and the Silver Star, also dating back to 2001.
In June, the Supreme Court struck down the Stolen Valor Act, a federal law which prohibits a person from falsely claiming a military honor. Critics of the decision had called for a government-run database listing awards, and the Defense Department said earlier this month that it would establish a site.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who appeared before a joint Congressional hearing on Wednesday morning to discuss transition programs for service members and veterans, told legislators that the department would possibly expand the information over time.
"This effort will raise public awareness about our nation's heroes and help deter those who might falsely claim military honors," Panetta said.
Joe Davis, national spokesperson for the VFW, told NBC News that the site "is a starting point that we hope will expand to the other valor medals, as well as the Purple Heart and combat awards like the Combat Infantryman's Badge."
The site will not take the place of proposed federal legislation to amend the Stolen Valor Act, which the Supreme Court found in violation of the First Amendment right of free speech.
Last year, after the law was first struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, Sen. Scott Brown, D-Mass., and Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., introduced new legislation making it illegal for individuals to benefit from lying about their military service or record. That bill has not yet passed Congress.
My own junior Senator seems to have taken the lead on this issue. He was also instrumental in getting legislation passed that has forced Arlington National Cemetery to clean up its act, so again I must state that I have no reason to doubt his sincerity on Veteran's Issues.
Freedom of Speech issues aside....we all lose whenever anyone makes a false claim of valor. Some of our combat awards are extraordinarily difficult to 'earn', requiring verification from multiple sources, eyewitnesses, and who knows what else. Many of our veterans return from war missing limbs, health, and their sanity, with barely any recognition at all.
But anyone can make the claim that they have a Purple Heart, or were in combat, or whatever else they want to say. Here the ignorance of the vast majority of Americans comes into play; gullibility seems to be a national trait. Perhaps the Pentagon's website will help....and maybe differently-worded legislation might set things back to right.
Finally....look how easy it is.
All of these are for sale; maybe this is what needs to be illegal.