DOD will unveil website to combat Stolen Valor this week
By LEO SHANE III AND CHRIS CARROLL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 23, 2012
WASHINGTON — The Defense Department will unveil a stolen valor website Wednesday designed to help citizens see if someone is lying about military medals.
President Barack Obama announced the new site as part of his speech before the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention in Reno. Nev., on Monday. Pentagon officials would not release additional details.
An administration official said that record keepers from each military branch have been compiling awards records since the Supreme Court last month struck down the federal Stolen Valor Act, arguing that the punishments for those lying about military medals infringed on free speech.
The website will be hosted at valor.defense.gov and will initially list only the recipients of the military’s highest awards for valor — the Medal of Honor and service crosses — that were awarded after Sept. 11, 2001.
According to the Home of Heroes web site, a private military medals database, only 79 such medals have been awarded for actions since 2001.
The Defense Department is also trying to compile information on Silver Star recipients, but no timetable has been given on when that might be completed. Pentagon staffers are researching whether lesser awards as well as medals presented before September 2001 can also be compiled into a database.
Pentagon officials refused to comment on how far into the past it would eventually extend. The DOD has long insisted that a complete accounting of all major medals would be impossible to compile. They cite various obstacles, including a 1973 fire at a records center in St. Louis that destroyed millions of servicemembers’ files.
The new online resource is not designed to replace congressional efforts to pass a new Stolen Valor Act penalizing fakes for claiming military honors. In its June ruling, the Supreme Court justices said narrower legislation, prohibiting specific harm or profit from the fraud, would likely withstand a constitutional challenge.
Doug Sterner, an archivist who began cataloguing medals privately in 1998, said he was glad the DOD was making a start — but it’s only the barest minimum of a start.
“It’s a step in the right direction and it’s a reversal on their position before,” said Sterner, whose work appears on the Military Times Hall of Valor website, as well as his own Home of Heroes website. “Now we need to make sure it gets done and we support them in doing it, but we want to make sure it gets done right.”
DOD has not had time since announcing it would work on a database several weeks ago to come to grips with what is really involved, said Sterner, who has personally entered 100,000 awards into his database. He said other records could fill in the gaps left by the 1973 fire, and that DOD should move quickly to digitize them before they too are lost.
“If [a fire] could happen in 1973,” he said, “it can certainly happen again.”