Policy & Strategy

DOD unveils ‘Stolen Valor’ database

The database that went online on Wednesday will initially list those service members awarded the congressional Medal of Honor — the country’s highest military honor — since the 9/11 attacks, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta told Congress on Wednesday. 

{mosads}Pentagon officials plan to add awardees of the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross and the Navy and Air Force service crosses to the database over the next few months, Panetta said during a joint hearing of the House Armed Services and Veterans Affairs committees. 

The database will “help maintain the integrity of awards and honors earned by service members and veterans” in the wake of the court’s decision in June. 

President Obama announced the creation of the database on Monday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention.

“It may no longer be a crime for con artists to pass themselves off as heroes, but one thing is certain — it is contemptible,” Obama said. “So this week, we will launch a new website, a living memorial, so the American people can see who’s been awarded our nation’s highest honors. Because no American hero should ever have their valor stolen.”

Supreme Court justices overturned the Stolen Valor Act, which made it a federal crime to lie about receiving military commendations, by a vote of 6-3. Justice Anthony Kennedy said the law was a violation of an individual’s First Amendment rights. 

However, Panetta and others inside the Pentagon took exception to the court’s interpretation of the law. 

“Free speech is one thing, but dishonoring those who have been honored on the battlefield is something else,” Panetta said on Wednesday, explaining the necessity of the database. 

Lawmakers in the Senate share Panetta’s distaste for the ruling and have introduced legislation to modify the Stolen Valor law while keeping within the court’s mandate. 

Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) and Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nev.) are pushing their legislation, introduced last year, that would make it a federal misdemeanor for individuals to benefit from lying about military honors. They said the bill should pass muster with the court because it does not make the lying itself a crime.

Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer hinted that a narrower version of the Stolen Valor Act might be constitutional. 

“The government has provided no convincing explanation as to why a more finely tailored statute would not work,” Breyer wrote in a concurring opinion. “In my own view, such a statute could significantly reduce the threat of First Amendment harm while permitting the statute to achieve its important protective objective.”

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), who introduced the 2006 Stolen Valor Act, said he is also looking to tweak the legislation along with former Navy Secretary and Virginia Democrat Sen. Jim Webb. 

None of the proposed legislation has yet to be called to the floor for a vote. 

— This story was updated at 1:45 p.m.


Most Popular

Load more


See all Video