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House bill makes it a crime to lie about military medals to obtain benefits

People who falsely claim they have received a military medal in order to obtain money or government benefits could face up to a year in jail under legislation that easily passed the House Monday.

The Stolen Valor Act, sponsored by Nevada Republican Joe Heck, is a second attempt by the House to revive a law on fraudulent claims to medals that was struck down by the Supreme Court in June last year. The legislation is identical to a measure that passed the House overwhelmingly last September but saw no Senate action before the last session of Congress ended. The vote Monday was 390-3.

The Supreme Court, in invalidating the Stolen Valor Act of 2006, ruled that while making false statements about receiving a military medal might be contemptible, such lies were protected by First Amendment free speech rights. The case involved a former California politician who lied about being a decorated military veteran. It has long been a crime to wear, manufacture or sell military declarations or medals without proper authorization.

As rewritten, the bill more narrowly focuses on those who lie about receiving medals "with intent to obtain money, property or other tangible benefit." That could include those who claim medals in order to receive veterans benefits, land a government contract or get a job reserved for veterans. Offenders face fines and up to a year in prison.

The bill, said Heck, "resolves these constitutional issues by clearly defining that the objective of the law is to target and punish those who represent their service with the intent of profiting personally or financially."

After the Supreme Court ruling, the Pentagon announced it would establish a database of military valor awards and medals, making it easier to validate claims.

The site, http://valor.defense.gov/, lists individuals who were awarded the Medal of Honor or a Service Cross prior to or after Sept 11, 2001. It also lists Silver Star recipients for actions since Sept. 11.

Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., has similar legislation pending in the Senate.

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