Stolen Valor: How It Could Affect You as a Traveler

ideo footage of a man in civilian clothes who confronted a swaggering older man wearing fatigues at a bar in Florida by asking him questions about why his uniform does not have a name badge and whether he was carrying the proper credentials — which caused the man in uniform to become aggressive — is included in this article written by Tobias Salinger of the New York Daily News.

Authorities hunted down a man who was accused of impersonating a Navy SEAL — also known as the Sea, Air and Land teams of the Navy of the United States — by telling fabricated war stories and claiming that he was awarded a Purple Heart for the purpose of personal gain, according to this report by Clayton Sandell of ABC News.

A command sergeant major at Fort Sill was reportedly convicted of wearing unauthorized military insignia — including a Ranger Tab and the Pathfinder Badge — earlier this month by a military judge who sentenced him to a demotion to sergeant first class; a letter of reprimand; and to forfeit $500.00 in pay per month for ten months, according to this story from the Associated Press and posted at Internet web sites such as Stars and Stripes.

Those items were only three of what seems to be an increase recently in cases of stolen valor, which is the unauthorized wearing, manufacturing or sale of any military decorations and medals — as well as falsely claiming to have served time in the armed forces of the United States — for the purpose of benefiting as a result of the deception.

How Stolen Valor Affects Travelers

One of those benefits is having a fellow passenger relinquish a seat in the premium class cabin aboard an airplane to whom he or she believes is or was a member of the armed forces of the United States — typically done out of respect for the service performed by that member of the military as he or she put his or her life on the line to serve his or her country; as well as to personally thank that person.

If you are one of those people who show your respect by giving up your seat for a member or former member of the military, how would you feel if you discovered that the coveted seat which you gave away was to a person who was nothing more than an impostor?

A professional football player claimed last year that he gave up his seat in the first class cabin aboard an airplane to a person who some FlyerTalk members purported was an impostor posing as a member of the United States Marine Corps. After some research, a statement posted at Guardian of Valor — which is an Internet web site which exposes cases of stolen valor — verified that the man was indeed a legitimate veteran of the United States Marine Corps.

Stolen Valor is a Violation of Federal Law

The act of stolen valor is serious enough that it is against the law. The Stolen Valor Act of 2013 amends the federal criminal code to rewrite provisions relating to fraudulent claims about military service to subject to a fine, imprisonment for not more than one year, or both an individual who, with intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit, fraudulently holds himself or herself out to be a recipient of:

  • a Congressional Medal of Honor,
  • a distinguished-service cross,
  • a Navy cross,
  • an Air Force cross,
  • a silver star,
  • a Purple Heart,
  • a Combat Infantryman’s Badge,
  • a Combat Action Badge,
  • a Combat Medical Badge,
  • a Combat Action Ribbon,
  • a Combat Action Medal, or
  • any replacement or duplicate medal for such medal as authorized by law.



Unfortunately — unless you do your research or have served in the military — there is no way for you to know whether or not someone is committing the act of stolen valor. Internet web sites — such as Stolen Valor and the aforementioned Guardian of Valor — attempt to educate civilians and post photographs and claims of specific people who have been accused of stolen valor; but that is not a deterrent to some people who like the idea of scouting potential dating opportunities, scoring free drinks at a bar…

…and, of course, being given seats in the first class cabin aboard airplanes, having attention focused on them when announcements by flight attendants aboard an airplane thank them for service they never performed, and being admitted into airport lounges — among other benefits of travel they would otherwise not be able to enjoy.

When companies in the travel industry — such as airlines, for example — take steps where customers become more uncomfortable or inconvenienced, so will there be a corresponding increase in the number of people who consider and carry out deceptive practices. One of those blatantly deceptive practices is the controversial concept of the emotional support animal, which helps an owner of a pet to avoid paying a fee — as well as to avoid having the animal relegated to the cargo hold below in an airplane for the duration of a flight.

While I can understand the desire to rebel against what seems to be increasing policies by companies such as airlines which adversely affect passengers — decreased comfort aboard airplanes and higher fees, to cite two of many examples — there is no justification to resorting to outright deception and fraud such as stolen valor as a response.

As I had written in this article which I posted on Thursday, July 10, 2014, I am not about to get involved in the debate about whether or not passengers should give up their seats for those who serve in the armed forces, as that is one of the most hotly debated topics on FlyerTalk — causing discussions such as this one to be locked from further posting.

Perusing the comments posted by readers of The Gate in response to an article I wrote back on Friday, March 1, 2013 where I asked “Should Military Personnel Airline Passengers Receive Special Treatment?” illustrates just how controversial is this issue, which I may revisit in a future article here at The Gate. It is a debate which may never be resolved…

…but if you are the type of person who enjoys giving a seat to a member of the military as a token of your appreciation and as a generous gesture, you may want to carefully consider ensuring that the person you choose is indeed actually a member of the military — because if he or she is not, sitting in that seat in the economy class cabin may suddenly feel just a little bit more uncomfortable for you…

2 thoughts on “Stolen Valor: How It Could Affect You as a Traveler”

  1. Mike says:

    As a recently retired Soldier, who has had top elite status on 3 airlines, I think I am safe in saying these cases are relatively rare.

    If you want to give up a seat to a service member but aren’t quite sure if they aren’t in, ask for a military ID. Can’t fake those.

  2. AlohaDaveKennedy says:

    As an old auditor, I can testify from personal experience to companies being taken in by hiring fake veterans. The fake service business is alive and well. Any time you give an advantage to members of a certain group you are going to draw out fraudsters. My belief is that we have a generation of folks raised on the Clinton Morality Code where there is no right or wrong, only whether you get caught.

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