PROTECTING MILITARY SERVICE RECORDS & AWARDS
March 02, 2012
OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS
OF FOREIGN WARS OF THE UNITED STATES
ON NATIONAL SECURITY, HOMELAND DEFENSE
ON OVERSIGHT AND GOVERNMENT REFORM
STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
MILITARY SERVICE RECORDS & AWARDS
Chairman and Members of this Committee:
behalf of the 2 million members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United
States and our Auxiliaries, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to
present our views on fabricating military service records and awards; making
records available for verification; and the need for the government to better maintain
adequate databases to track and ease access to military service records.
of the greatest threats to small unit morale is a barracks thief. It is an egregious violation of personal
space, property and trust, plus it sows seeds of suspicion among those who must
depend upon each other to fight, win and survive our nation’s battles. Upon discovery, the thief is dealt with
severely, principally on charges of robbery under Article 122 of the Uniform
Code of Military Justice, or UCMJ.
wars of past and present have produced thousands of true military heroes who were
properly recognized for their selfless service and bravery, and untold more
whose heroic actions died with them in battle.
For those few who survived, and to the memories of those who did not, the
Stolen Valor Act of 2005 was enacted to protect them against false heroes who
seek public acclaim and personal gain during an era of great public respect for
the military institution as a whole, and for those men and women who wear or
have worn the uniform.
is a current case before the U.S. Supreme Court in which the VFW is the lead
cosigner of an amicus brief to uphold the Stolen Valor Act of 2005. We fully believe that this law should be
upheld, and that all punishments be swift, severe and made public to the
broadest extent to help deter others who might consider stealing another’s
valor by impersonating a true military hero.
constitutional issue before the Supreme Court is whether lying has First
Amendment free speech protections. That
is not the purpose of this hearing, but we do ask that the committee use this
opportunity to require the military services to better document military awards
for valor for verification purposes.
military decorations are government-issued, yet there is no government-run,
searchable military decorations database that catalogs the awards. Instead, this function has been ceded almost entirely
to nongovernment entities that may or may not have access to complete lists—if
such lists exist at all.
of the five military service websites list their own Medal of Honor recipients—Marines
are listed on the Navy website—but only the civilian enterprise Military Times
Hall of Valor, and the nonprofit Congressional Medal of Honor Society, list all
recipients going back to the medal’s creation during the Civil War. (Note: The U.S. Army Center of Military
History maintains an all-service Medal of Honor webpage, but its information
comes from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.)
regards to the nation’s second highest medal for bravery—the Army’s Distinguished
Service Cross, Navy Cross and Air Force Cross—there is no complete list of
recipients on any military service website, just press releases and articles
written for internal consumption. The
Air Force’s Air University does maintain a list of Air Force Cross recipients,
but only of enlisted personnel.
Times Hall of Valor is the unofficial records keeper, and its founders and
chief researchers, Doug and Pam Sterner of Alexandria, Va., are recognized experts
for verifying recipients of the military’s top medals for valor, and for exposing
frauds, as well.
of Valor lists almost 100,000 medal recipients, to include all 3,475 Medal of
Honor recipients, plus 13,458 soldiers having received the Distinguished
Service Cross, 6,939 sailors and Marines the Navy Cross, and 194 airmen the Air
Force Cross. It also lists well over 24,400
recipients of the Silver Star, which is the nation’s third highest medal for valor.
civilian entity has accomplished all of this through open source documents,
FOIA requests and perseverance, and Hall of Valor has done it to an extremely
high-degree of accuracy. The question
this begs is why haven’t the military services taken the initiative to properly
document for posterity the medals they issue?
April 2, 2009, response to (then) House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike
Skelton, the Department of Defense determined that a searchable military
decorations database “would have little utility for reducing the number of
fraudulent valor award claims.”
DOD’s reasons to reject the notion of a searchable military decorations
database was Privacy Act concerns, a $250,000 cost estimate, redundancy
(because of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society listing), and that their
inability to list all valor award recipients (due to the 1973 National
Personnel Records Center fire in St. Louis, etc.), would render the database
incomplete, and therefore, not completely accurate.
VFW disagrees. A searchable military
decorations database is doable with the millions of available records, as well
as with duplicate records housed at National Archives facilities. And the longer DOD and/or services delay
doing what we hope Congress makes inevitable will only make the task more
military heritage demands an electronic accounting of more than just who was
the umpteenth commander of which ship, division or service. It demands an official and verifiable record
of battles and maneuvers, and of the units involved. More so, it demands that those servicemen and
women who excelled under fire be recognized and entered into the permanent
history of that service.
searchable military decorations database is the only responsible way to
properly document the medals the military issues, which would also help the
Department of Veterans Affairs in their mission to provide healthcare,
disability compensation and burial services to eligible veterans.
to all VA programs and benefits is an accurate DD Form 214, Certificate of
Release or Discharge from Active Duty—which DOD began issuing to separating and/or
retiring military members in 1950—and individual military medical records,
which help to prove service-connection for injury and illness claims.
to be a former Prisoner of War with a Purple Heart, for example, places the
veteran into VA Priority Group 3, just behind those veteranswith 30-percent or more
service-connected disability ratings. However,
an unchallenged claim to be a former POW could also make it easier to increase a
disability rating and, therefore, more compensation.
April 2009 article by The Associated
Press, the Defense Department said there were 21 surviving POWs from
the first Gulf War, yet the VA was paying disability benefits to 286 former service members who claimed
to have been taken prisoner during that conflict. Similarly, DOD recognizes that 661 former
POWs returned home alive from the Vietnam War.
About 100 have since died, but the VA in 2009 was paying disability
payments to 966 purported Vietnam POWs. AP
also wrote that one Korean War veteran’s made-up story earned him more than
$400,000 in benefits before he was exposed.
absolutely necessary for the military services to take better ownership of
their personnel recordkeeping, and to do everything possible to eliminate
“holes” in service records, such as when a medal recommendation is not
processed or approved until long after the recipient has separated from
service—or in some cases, died.
onus to correct DD-214s has always been on the individual, which can be even
more difficult for members of the Guard and Reserve.
example, a coworker at the VFW Washington Office learned a year after he was
released from active duty that he had been awarded a Bronze Star for his meritorious
service in Iraq in 2004. He has a copy
of his medal certificate and an orders number, but for almost seven years has
been unsuccessful in tracking down the original documents in order to correct
his DD-214 and accurately reflect his wartime service. He has corresponded numerous times with his
former Army Reserve unit, his gaining unit, the 4th Infantry
Division, and with the Army’s Human Resources Command, which responded to his
latest request earlier this month that their records on him may be incomplete.
Chairman, if the above 30-year-old Iraqi veteran, who because of his position
with the VFW is immersed in the ways of the government bureaucracy on a daily
basis, continues to have great difficulty in accessing and correcting his own military
records, how difficult must it be for potentially hundreds of thousands of
other veterans from this and previous generations who don’t regularly interact with
may have made things faster, but computers have not made the military personnel
system any better. The services must do
a better job administratively, which is one of the primary reasons why we are
have the most powerful and technologically advanced military in the history of
the world, yet we have a personnel system that continues to focus more on
recruiting and retention than on the high-quality people they return to civilian
society after four or 40 years of honorable service to our nation.
is absolutely no excuse in the year 2012 that the entire military personnel
system cannot immediately find and correct errors and omissions in military
service records, but it continues to happen right now today. There is equally no excuse that these records
are difficult to access—much less to correct—after the service member separates
public’s disconnect with the military is already huge. The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. asks
for your help to not allow the military to exacerbate its own disconnect with
their own service members, veterans and retirees. Those who serve our nation in uniform deserve
so much better service.
this concludes my statement. I would be
happy to answer any questions that you or the other members of the Committee
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