Bill would mandate jail time for wearing fake medals or lying about being a veteran
WASHINGTON — Supporters of a bill to mandate jail time for wearing fake military medals or lying about being a veteran are making a last-minute plea to get Congress to pass the measure before the end of the year.
But, with only a week of legislative business left and lingering resistance to the measure, they concede it likely won’t happen.
“I’m still hopeful … but we’ve been told what it comes down to is, the Republicans won’t pass a bill introduced by a freshman Democratic representative,” said Doug Sterner, founder of www.homeofheroes.com and a leading proponent of the bill. “That’s the only problem they seem to have with this.”
The latest push on the measure comes after another high-profile military fraud case. On Wednesday, the FBI arrested a Missouri man for impersonating a Marine and wearing undeserved military medals including the Navy Cross during public events in the St. Louis area.
According to investigators Michael Weilbacher, 48, never served in the military and could face up to six months in jail and $5,000 in fines for the offense, but the crime is only a misdemeanor under current law.
The legislation before Congress would make that type of crime a felony, raising the penalty to as much as a year in jail for impersonating a war hero or displaying unearned military medals. Felony convictions, unlike misdemeanor charges, can carry additional penalties like limits on gun ownership and disqualification from certain public offices, depending on the state.
The measure, dubbed the Stolen Valor Act, was introduced in July 2005 by Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., at the urging of Sterner’s wife, Pam, a political science student at the time.
In September, the Senate passed a similar measure sponsored by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., but both bills have languished in the House Judiciary Committee. Officials there said the committee has no plans to review the bill again when the House returns for its weeklong legislative wrap-up starting Monday.
Several prominent Republicans on the committee are co-sponsors of Salazar’s bill, and after the Weilbacher case became public House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said he would consider lending his support to the measure as well.
But Blunt spokeswoman Jessica Boulanger said the congressman has not made any final decisions, and had no plans to push Republican leadership to rush through the measure next week. If it’s not passed next week, the bill will have to be reintroduced when the new session of Congress begins next month.
The legislation has received public support from the Vietnam Veterans of America, the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, the Military Order of the Purple Heart and numerous other veterans associations.
Sterner said if the measure isn’t approved this month, he is confident it will be passed quickly by the incoming Democrat-led Congress.
“The incoming House leaders (Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Steny Hoyer) are both co-sponsors,” he said. “But the frustrating part of this is that we are so close. It would only take a few minutes of the current House’s time to see it pass.”