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Montana senators help move bill forward

The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year struck down the Stolen Valor Act that made it a crime to falsely claim a military award, but lawmakers in both the House and Senate have moved forward with new, more specific versions of the law.

In the latest twist, the Senate attached the Stolen Valor Act of 2012 — sponsored by decorated Vietnam War veteran Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va. — as an amendment to the 2013 Defense Authorization Bill that passed last week.

Montana Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester co-sponsored the legislation.

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Webb’s bill passed the Senate a couple of weeks ago and makes it a federal crime to make a false claim about having served in the military or having received a military decoration if the object of the lie is personal gain. Those caught lying for personal gain would face fines of up to $10,000 and up to six months in prison.

In September the House passed the Stolen Valor Act of 2011, sponsored by Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., that makes it a crime to knowingly benefit from lies about receiving military awards.

Heck’s bill makes a similar change to the Stolen Valor Act of 2006 — which was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on the grounds it infringed upon free speech rights — in that it narrowly focuses on those who seek to benefit from their misrepresentations of receiving military awards, and not the lie itself.

The House version imposes a tougher penalty for violators, with up to one year in prison.

Doug Sterner, a former Kalispell resident whose wife wrote the policy analysis that became the original Stolen Valor Act, said he’s pleased with Congress’ efforts to keep the issue at the forefront.

“It is a very good thing,” Sterner said about the amendment Friday. “It eliminates the need to amend the House Bill [Heck's] or the Senate Bill [Webb’s] to make the two compatible. If the House passes the Defense Authorization Bill ... it becomes law upon signing of the act by the president.”

Sterner called the amendment a “very smart move by the Senate.

“As a Flathead boy, I'm pleased to see Baucus and Tester both behind it,” he continued, adding that Tester has been “an especially good ally” in his efforts.

A Vietnam War veteran and two-time Bronze Star recipient, Sterner attended grade schools in Kalispell, seventh grade in Somers, and after living two years out of state returned to Kalispell for his sophomore year at Flathead High School. He graduated from Lincoln County High School in Eureka in 1968 and attended Flathead Valley Community College for a semester before enlisting in the Army in 1969.

Sterner has spent years developing a database of verified military award recipients. His Hall of Valor website is now part of the Military Times’ database.

His wife, Pam, wrote her paper, “Stolen Valor,” for a political science course at Colorado State University after she overheard Doug talking on the phone to an FBI agent about a case of stolen valor: an Army private who boasted he had earned two Silver Stars, a Distinguished Service Cross, two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart for military service in Afghanistan, Kuwait, Somalia and Iraq.

None of it was true.

That college paper became the blueprint for the Stolen Valor Act.

The Stolen Valor Act of 2012 notes that because people who serve in the military are held in great respect, lies about military service or awards received are especially harmful for many reasons. Employers often hire veterans ahead of others, the public often elects veterans and the government sets aside contracts for veterans.

“False claims of military service or military heroism are an especially noxious means of obtaining something of value because they are particularly likely to cause a tangible harm to victims of fraud,” the amendment notes in its findings.

Sterner’s tireless work to catalog those who have rightfully earned their military awards continues to make headlines in national publications.

He’s featured in an article in the January 2013 edition of Penthouse magazine. In that article he points out that it isn’t only veterans who are harmed. The American public itself is a victim.

“Those who will commit acts of stolen valor are predators, and they prey on society,” Sterner says in the Penthouse article. “The stolen valor legislation is critical to protecting vulnerable American citizens from crafty predators who lie about their service, sacrifice and heroism to take advantage of others — and it happens on a daily basis.”

Features editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached by email at lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

 

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