What is “Stolen Valor”?

| October 14, 2015

Lately, I’ve found myself explaining to folks the difference between the Stolen Valor Act and the thing that we call “stolen valor”. The phrase actually comes from BG “Jug” Burkett who wrote the book “Stolen Valor” which was published in the 90s and told the story about folks who had appropriated the valor of the Vietnam generation of warriors. In 2005, President Bush signed the Stolen Valor Act which made lying about one’s military experience a crime.

In 2012, the Supreme Court invalidated that federal law because, they said, it violated Americans’ freedom of speech. The following year, Congress passed, and the President signed a new law, called the Stolen Valor Act of 2013 (Pub.L. 113–12; H.R. 258) that made lying about your military experience illegal if you told that lie for some sort of “tangible benefit” if your lies concern certain badges and medals. The list of medals and badges reads like this; a Medal of Honor (Army, Navy, Air Force), a Distinguished Service Cross, a Navy Cross, an Air Force Cross, a Silver Star, a Purple Heart, a Combat Infantryman’s Badge, a Combat Action Badge, a Combat Medical Badge, a Combat Action Ribbon, a Combat Action Medal, or any replacement or duplicate medal for such medal as authorized by law. The Stolen Valor Act of 2013 modified Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 704.

Generally, we, in the Stolen Valor community, aren’t concerned with the federal law. TAH and our partners have very little influence with federal prosecutors who are usually reluctant to pursue Stolen Valor Act charges against a criminal. What we are concerned about is the truth.

The Supreme Court essentially gave us a warrant to hunt down these valor thieves and expose them to the public. Justice Kennedy wrote in US v. Alvarez that “Truth needs neither handcuffs nor a badge for its vindication.” That means that we don’t need the government regulations or law enforcement to expose liars to the light of truth.

We look at things that aren’t necessarily regulated by the US Code – things like the POW Medal, for example.

Many of the conversations I have on social media are with people who confuse the Stolen Valor Act with BG Burkett’s phrase. In our community, there doesn’t have to be a “tangible benefit” to be Stolen Valor. That’s for lawyers to parse. All we’re interested in is the truth. In US v. Alvarez, Justice Kennedy wrote;

The remedy for speech that is false is speech that is true. This is the ordinary course in a free society. The response to the unreasoned is the rational; to the uninformed, the enlightened; to the straight-out lie, the simple truth.


Society has the right and civic duty to engage in open, dynamic, rational discourse.

The court of public opinion doesn’t expect us to prove a “tangible benefit” for valor to be stolen. We’re only interested in preserving history and the valor of those who wrote those chapters of history in blood. The lie makes it stolen valor, not the intentions or motivations, legality or illegality. Most of the people who commit Stolen Valor are within their legal rights to do so – and so are we within our legal rights to expose them as common liars.

Category: Stolen Valor Act

Comments (29)

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  1. Martinjmpr says:

    It might also be worthwhile to explain what “Stolen Valor” is NOT. Unfortunately I see on other web sites (message boards, mostly) people screaming “STOLEN VALOR!!!!” because they saw some knob wearing an old BDU top or field jacket or even a pair of ACU pants.

    To me, in order for the term “Stolen Valor” to have meaning, it must be narrowly defined as lying about or misrepresenting one’s military service.

    Falsely claiming to be a Navy SEAL to impress chicks on the internet? STOLEN VALOR.

    Dressing up as a Navy SEAL for Halloween? NOT STOLEN VALOR!

    I would even go so far as to say wearing a T-shirt or jacket with a branch-of-service logo is not stolen valor unless the wearer is falsely claiming to be a member or former member of that service.

    I keep waiting for someone to yell “STOLEN VALOR!” on my wife because she likes to wear one of my old BDU tops sometimes (she likes it and I think it’s sweet, like a girl wearing her boyfriend’s letter jacket in high school.) I should probably point out that she did remove one of the rank insignias on the collar and replaced it with a pink patch that says “PRINCESS” 😀

    • Jonn Lilyea says:

      I agree completely. Chasing some hobo down the street because he’s wearing an old BDU shirt is not stolen valor.

    • radar says:

      Excellent point. I got my dad a USMC hat once when I was in, and he was afraid to wear it because he didn’t want anyone getting on his case for wearing it when he wasn’t a Marine, which was silly but apparently can happen.

      • NECCSEABCPO says:

        Good points, What about the Navy NWU type 2 & 3 you can not purchase in exchange because they are considered organizational gear and only issued,to be returned when you join unit and leave. So in other words they are controlled items and only to be Warn when assigned to unit’s that operate in them.

        • Silentium Est Aureum says:

          Guess I better return that foul weather jacket then, or Master Chief’ll have my ass.

          • NECCSEABCPO says:

            yep, if it is type 2 or 3 green digital and brown digital.

            • Airdale USN says:

              I guess I’m stuck with all that foul weather gear I got since my squadron DECOMMED some years back.

              • NECCSEABEECPO says:

                considering all the flight deck crap like the jackets and paint’s you guy used all came from DRMO yes your good. Not talking about all that shit it’s new NWU’S that they want to control and cannot buy in exchange.

        • AW1Ed says:

          I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of either nylon or leather Navy flight jackets in la casa de AW1Ed.

          With squadron patches and name tags. 😉

    • John D says:

      She’ll probably want to drop that patch once the Pentagon authorizes it across all services for male and female members alike,

      along with the powder blue “Special Snowflake” tab.

    • OldSoldier54 says:

      Well said.

      Myself, I often wear what in the old days were called fatigue trousers while working around the house or on some project. I use them to remind myself to never forget, and to keep praying for our young people out on the sharp end.

  2. Bruce says:

    stealing valor from those
    who really deserve it, taking glory from those who do not seek it. The people who tell lies
    about who and what they are, are really stealing from themselves. Life is unique, their
    are no boring lives, each life has its own story to tell, its own failures and victories, its own
    place in the world, its own path to follow. Some years ago I coined this quote.
    “Don’t claim to be what your not, Just be who you are, that should be more then enough”.
    People will like and respect you for who you are, not for what you think would empress

  3. Some Guy says:

    Just to play devil’s advocate, would you say that wearing awards incorrectly is also stolen valor? I recall a piece you did on a retired SF CSM who decided to wear everything he ever earned on his ASUs. While that was clearly in violation of AR 670-1 and, quite frankly, ridiculous, I don’t necessarily agree that someone would necessarily be stealing valor by conducting themselves in such a manor. Thus, I don’t agree with keeping the stolen valor page for him up for everyone on the internet to gawk at. Some here justified it by citing instances of being chewed out by SNCOs when they were younger and how they should be held to a higher standard, but, to me at least, I don’t believe that’s in the same category as lying about your service.
    Just my $0.02

    • Hondo says:

      Well, I might agree – if all of the awards the guy in question was wearing were legitimately awarded.

      However, in addition to treating the uniform like a clown costume the guy you’re talking was also sporting a
      (1) Ranger Tab
      (2) Pathfinder Badge
      (3) Diver Badge, and
      (4) LOM

      that weren’t documented in his OMPF archived at NPRC.


      He also seems to be wearing service stripes indicating 30 full years of service when he only actually has around 28 years.

      The LOM could be legit as a retirement award and might have missed getting into his records. But I’m not buying all of those being “oopsies” on his MILPO’s part.

      • Some Guy says:

        I guess I missed the part about those awards. That changes things, of course. I didn’t think it was possible to earn the SF tab without the Ranger tab first, but then I joined only a bit over a year ago, so what do I know. 🙂

        • Reddevil says:

          “I didn’t think it was possible to earn the SF tab without the Ranger tab first…”

          This is not meant to pick on you, but it is a good illustration of an underlying issue that causes many of these guys to do what they do, and ironically the most common way they are caught.

          You’re statement implies that SF guys are somehow more advanced, tougher, or somehow better than Rangers. I’m guessing that a lot of SF guys would agree, but the reality is that they’re not; they are just trained for a different mission that requires different skills (so different that they are special).

          The reality is that although some courses, MOSs, units, etc are tougher to get into or have tougher training, there is no real ‘better than’ comparison between different services or even MOSs because they all do different things. Whose better, a Ranger or a cook? Depends on how hungry you are.

          No matter what you do in the Military, be the best you can be and everyone will respect you service. Anyone that did a tour in any service and walked out with an honorable disharge has my respect, even if they spent their time at Fort Sam Houston typing up leave forms. At least they did something, and in my book they can look anyone in the eye and say they served their country.

          The problem is, that’s not good enough for some. They either never served, or they think that their time as a fuel handler at Camp Wherever wasn’t good enough, so they make up a story and buy some badges to go along with it (sometimes they buy the badges first).

          The truth that most veterans will tell you is that it takes all kinds, and although we are fiercely proud of the manner and nature of our service, outside of some friendly rivalry we would never denigrate that of someone else, no matter what they did, because we all remember how good that hot chow was, or thanked God that we weren’t mechanics the week before the OR inspection, and wanted to kiss the PAC clerk that typed up our PCS orders that time.

          BTW, some Rangers go SF, some SF go to Ranger school, most do neither.

          • NECCSEABEECPO says:

            Well said,
            That is half the problem people are held on a pedestal.
            Here’s another food for thought. What happens with all humanitarian recover missions like earth quakes, hurricanes and any other man made or natural disaster comes around. It is the support troops that do all the heavy lifting not the SOF guy. there are no hero’s in that type of work my ass.I know this because we are the major force that is called all over the world to conduct such missions. Oh we do it in combat zones also.

          • 3E9 says:

            I’ve said it a thousand times, there are two jobs in the military; (1) kill people (2) help people kill people. Figure out which one you are and be the best you can at it.

            • NECCSEABEECPO says:

              Then why are we doing civil humanitarian projects all over. We have 5 long standing det’s in and around HOA and Asia i.e. Philippines and why was I on a det that worked in 7 South & Central America, Seams funny to me. Any way yes we work with CA and I know why we do it.

  4. Just An Old Dog says:

    A hobo sitting on the corner wearing a surplus field jacket and simply asking for change is not stolen Valor.
    A hobo with or without the jacket telling people he served in Vietnam when he didn’t .. even if he doesn’t ask for money is Stolen Valor.
    The same hobo again with or without the jacket who lies about military service to bilk a charity ( or the VA) out of money is Stolen Valor prosecutable by law,

  5. A Proud Infidel®™ says:

    Old BDU’s can come In handy during Hunting Season, and I have no quips or qualms with non-Vets using them. It’s when jokers wear them and lie about their past that pisses me off, especially when they falsely claim a PH!

  6. 2/17 Air Cav says:

    I think we have some damn good definitional descriptions here of SV, what it is and what it isn’t. Some damn common sense is always a necessary element to the situations and people we come across in our lives who may or may not be valor thieves.

  7. Chris says:

    2/17 Air Cav,,,you just said the magic words,,”common sense” TAH has a whole section of people lacking common sense on the SV link above. The common sense works both ways though, you have to know the difference of a bar story, or a “No shit, there I was” story from a actual SV perp. I’ve helped out with SV with Scottie, Anthony, Jonn, and many others for 5 years now, and I can tell anyone all of the names above make sure every ‘t’ is crossed, every ‘i’ dotted before anyone is outted just to make sure it is true SV and not some cat that told a outrageous bar story that got over heard. True SV does not always present itself like a billboard sign, most of the worst offenders are subtle and build it up over months, or even years. Those are the true SV thieves in my opinion.

  8. Skippy says:

    the way I see it if you did not earn it don’t wear it…….
    and if you claim it you better be able to back it up
    most of these Turds I’ve seen on here and on SV
    were ate the hell up going out the door some are just plumb crazy
    attention whores the one that burn me up are the ones
    screwing the system and bogging down the VA with BS story’s
    one of my docs up in Nevada said the B.S. story’s screw the rest of
    us trying to get help and he explained to me why it was important
    for us vets to confront and if need be expose shit bags if need be
    I’ve seen a few here in Arizona but most where homeless and bat
    shit crazy living on the streets. to me no harm. then there are the ones I’ve seen
    at the mall or at a store begging for money then it’s game on
    so that’s about 20 percent of how I feel on the issue

  9. Thunderstixx says:

    Since we are speaking of Stolen Valor I figgered that I should post this here so whomever is reading it and has the intentions of misrepresenting themselves you can get free stickers here so you can show the world how much of a badass you really are !!!
    Four stickers for four wars. If that ain’t badass I don’t know what is !!!

  10. Enigma4you says:

    When I am asked about Stolen Valor I boil it down to a few simple test.

    Is there intent to deceive?

    I am not talking about telling a sea story or a kid wearing a Jacket, I am talking about a desire to intentionally deceive a group or individual into believing that you were more than you really were or that you serves when you didn’t.

    Is there an attempt to Distort?

    This is the one that we probably see the most of, and it harder to prove. Use Bernath as the example. He will be quick to tell you part of the truth, He was a PH2 and then he will say that he was made an Honorary Chief. The problem is he claims to be a bigger part of events than he really was. He knows the lingo and can make even the most seasoned Vet believe part or all of his story.

    Waverly Reynar is another good example. He does not see that he did any wrong in his deception. He fooled several Real Retired Marines and many wounded Vets with his lies. We still dont know his whole story and I doubt we ever will.

    What is the Motivation? I ask myself that because honestly it matters. Very often some young kid says something trying to get into the pants of a young lady. Is it forgivable? Will a word of warning stop the action? IS it worth messing up a kids life and future job options by plastering a moment of stupidity?

    I dont really like most of the Videos trying to out some kid on a campus or some old guy wearing a uniform. The reason is there is not time to get the whole story. Even then sometime it takes multiple attemps to get info. Jonn, Hondo, TSO ect can tell of multiple times that a FOIA has been wrong or incomplete.

    Its hard not to say “I would not do that so you should not either” I will never wear my uniform again, I have the right to but I have no desire to. Its the right choice for me, however others see it different and may well chose to put on the old blues from time to time. Should a vet comply with the uniform regs? Yes, are they compelled to? no they are not.

    I often wear a Navy Ball cap. They wear out and not long ago a close friend got me one. It had scrambled eggs on the brim. I was not a commander or captain so I never earned the scrambled eggs. I dont wear that hat but I would never confront someone that did.

    I have a collection of Ball Caps from ships. I personally would not wear one from a ship I was not on, that is until my son Joined the Navy, I will wear his squadron or ships hat with pride.

  11. Intel POG says:

    My problem with the original SV act was that our government can prosecute someone for telling lies. Ok.. so we all get it. We Veterans know who lies about their service. But the problem I run into is, who determines what a lie is. Say that Al Gore becomes president and decides that denying global warming is a lie and now is prosecutable because he has president with the SV act.
    I don’t like lying people, but I hate the governement more. LOL

  12. Jarhead says:

    Enigma…You ask “What is the motivation?” Opinions are worth their cost, mine is free, even without being asked. IMHO, those guilty of Stolen Valor, whether merely exposed or prosecuted, feel the need to be respected and this is the only unquestionable manner (in most cases) they can command respect. How many of us question every military story we hear? Probably more than the general public since most all on this site have been there. A reoccurring theme among the posers seems to be a habit of embellishing the story each time it is delivered. Truth is, if most of the phonies we know had just kept their story short and sweet, possibly few would have taken a second listen. Of those I have encountered, they have been transparent the first time I heard them telling their story to someone else. Just too many details being shared with people who have no clue as to the reality of the events. Likely we’d all like to be a better person than what we are, simple common sense to wish to have had a greater impact on mankind. Yet, the large majority of us are at least happy with what we have in fact done and do not require the recognition some crave. What has happened is in the past, nothing can or will change that. So why the F__K do these posers not eventually reach a point of “the story ends here”….rather than adding a new paragraph every time they spew? Those are the same people who want attention every time they donate, whether it be to a cause or tithe to church. Been said many times here Attention Whores. The only difference between them and common prostitutes is the posers don’t use pimps.