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WASHINGTON — A bill mandating tougher punishment for military impostors gained final approval from the House on Wednesday, and will now go to the president to be signed into law.

The legislation, dubbed the “stolen valor act,” calls for up to six months in prison for anyone who falsely claims to have earned a military honor, and up to a year in prison for fraudulently wearing a Purple Heart, Silver Star or other high military honor.

Both crimes would also be classified as felonies, which can carry additional penalties such as limits on gun ownership and disqualification from certain public offices, depending on the state.

Under current law, anyone caught wearing a military medal they did not earn faces a misdemeanor charge and up to six months in prison, but law enforcement can’t do anything to someone simply displaying or claiming to have earned the honor.

House officials on Wednesday said the change closes that critical loophole and helps protect the integrity of the military awards.

“These frauds have diminished the honor of our military heroes,” said Rep. John Salazar, D-Colo., who introduced the original version of the measure. “They use it to gain credibility for themselves, and often go on to commit even worse crimes.”

Along with cases of individuals using the fake medals to gain speaking engagements and community leadership roles, Salazar referenced crimes committed in 2004 by retired Marine Sgt. Gary Lakis, who claimed fake combat experience and nonexistent Silver Stars in order to gain $66 million in defense contracts to provide training to the service.

The military revoked those contracts once Lakis was found to be lying about much of his military career, but he fled the country before FBI investigators could arrest him and charge him with fraud.

Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., said awards such as the Purple Heart “hold a deeper meaning and value for servicemen that far outweighs their monetary worth,” and called the bill a chance to honor the sacrifice of all troops by preserving the military’s legacy.

The tougher penalties are backed by a number of veterans groups, including the Vietnam Veterans of America and the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

As of late last week, supporters thought the bill likely wouldn’t pass this session because of House Republican leadership’s resistance to moving a measure proposed by Salazar, a first-term Democrat.

The measure approved yesterday was a nearly identical bill sponsored by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., which was approved by the full Senate in September.

The White House has not released any timetable for when the bill could be signed into law.


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