There is a group of people who can tell you what a child’s body smells like after it was rotting in a Baghdad alley for days, what the heat from an Improvised Explosive Device maiming their best friend feels like and how it feels to tape armor bought from a catalog to your chest, hoping that it can withstand a 7.62×39mm round from a 1980s soviet rifle. These people are the veterans of combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. icasualties reports that 4,520 US solders lost their lives in Iraq, while 2,400 US soldiers were lost in Afghanistan. In addition to the 6,920 fatalities in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, countless other soldiers were wounded in battle. In addition, the trauma of war has left mental scars so deep that there is one veteran suicide every 65 minutes. The fate of the veteran is practically sealed, as we know the hell they will face on the battlefield is destined to change them in a way that they could not possibly be prepared for in basic training. Killing, knowing that you are in a place where people seek to kill you and battling enemies hiding in plain sight will change how you eat, sleep and breathe until the day you die.
Considering all the horrors which come with being a veteran, it is remarkable that there are people who will enlist and fight for their country. For this reason, those who do and who come home are typically considered to be heroes. Private citizens and government assistance programs provide some small favors for our veterans; however, it should be said that what is done for these veterans is likely not enough to repay them for what they have done for us. There are programs for home loans, education assistance and healthcare. Private businesses may offer veterans discounts or free items. Individuals may donate to veterans in need. All of these gestures are good citizenship.
There is another group of people. These people never served in the military or were never in the field of battle but who desire the material and amaterial benefits of having served. They will tell fictitious war stories or parrot stories told by other people. They may try to obtain the same benefits that veterans will receive. A cursory search of YouTube returned results on these people doing things such as giving a speech about the war at a local college, attempting to impression woman by telling someone else’s story, or begging on the street corner in a uniform they bought online. When asked for any proof of their status as a veteran, they were unable to give it. No DD216, no photos of themselves on base, no photos of themselves in uniform. They had no contacts that they could give who could vouch for them. These people were engaged in the practice of Stolen Valor.
Stolen Valor happens when someone claims to have military awards they did not earn, that they did service they did not perform or tells tales of military heroism that they were not a part of, but claim that they were. Stolen Valor is a problem because it causes civilians who never served to call the service of all veterans into question and can make people less trusting and less likely to extend help to legitimate veterans. More importantly, Stolen Valor can be a crime if it is used as a way to obtain any sort of benefit. The Stolen Valor Act of 2013 makes it a crime to fraudulently claim having received a valor award with the intention of obtaining money, property or a tangible benefit. Valor awards under the Stolen Valor Act of 2013 include ribbons and medals which signify service in ground or surface combat, therefore, claiming any service as a veteran for benefit can be a case of Stolen Valor violating this law.
The Case of Coll Stone
A good example of Stolen Valor in violation of the Stolen Valor Act of 2013 is Coll Stone. Stone (formerly Celina), a female-to-male transgender person living in Houston, Texas, is a member of the Anonymous collective and the owner of GenderXpression Apparel. Coll’s social media has a history of referencing their appreciation for the military, previous experience working for the Department of Defense (DoD) and confusingly, some instances where Coll claims to have been a Marine. In posts made on 1 June 2012 and 29 July 2013 on Twitter and 13 June 2016 on Facebook Coll said that they worked for the DoD in different capacities as a truck driver. In other posts made on Twitter and Facebook, Coll plainly states that he was in the USMC. In a post made on 26 October 2011, Coll stated that they were the only female to win over 20 medals in Afghanistan. These inconsistencies point to Coll being a Case of Stolen Valor.
Currently, Coll is running a Facebook Fundraiser campaign, attempting to obtain donations for top surgery. If Coll were a vet, as Coll said on 16 June 2016 that he had retired from the USMC in 2015 after two tours in Afghanistan, the VA would be able to give Coll assistance, hence, it appears even less likely that Coll served at all. Coll has currently raised $2,496 in the fundraiser. In a post made on 27 July 2017 Coll stated that that he fought for freedom with the image of himself sitting on top of a jet on Bagram Air Force Base under a US Flag. On 26 July 2017 Coll stated that he had “Tours in Bagram AFB” with the question “will Trumpy take away my benefits because I’m trans???”
Stolen Valor is a problem. People like Coll Stone are the root of that problem. There are laws in place to address this problem; however, it requires that people report these crimes to the authorities when they happen. Veterans have done their job, now is time for us to do ours.
If you are aware of a case of Stolen Valor, gather all evidence, arrange it so that it is easily understood and call your Congressman. It is not your duty to confront Stolen Valor. It is a federal crime and best left for law enforcement to investigate.