Database could serve as example for feds
the nation at war, the number of decorated veterans is on the
rise, a trend law enforcement officials agree is historically
accompanied by an increase in phonies attempting to cash in on the
respect legitimate heroes receive.
frauds usually skyline themselves by going too far — often
claiming numerous service crosses, Silver Stars and Purple Hearts
— it’s often difficult to tell the real heroes from the fake
ones. It’s even more problematic to confirm suspicions when a
story or ribbon rack looks too good to be true.
solution is simple, relatively cheap, and comes down to a moral
imperative for the federal government, said Doug Sterner, a
civilian in Pueblo, Colo., who’s spent the last nine years
compiling an online database of everyone who has earned the nation’s
top three awards for combat valor since World War I.
records on Sterner’s Web site, www.homeofheroes.com, are
rock-solid and attract about 8 million hits each month. The FBI
and several other government agencies use his database to check up
on people they suspect of wearing unearned awards.
because the government doesn’t have a central database of its
own, something Sterner and several veterans organizations are
pushing to change.
branch of the military keeps its own records of award recipients,
but those records are partially digitized and available to the
public only through Freedom of Information Act requests that often
take months to process, making it difficult for communities to
identify the phonies in their midst and problematic for military
officials to honor unsung heroes in their ranks.
said 50 percent of the requests he’s received over the years
have come from Army, Navy and Air Force officials who ask, “Do
you have so and so’s citation? We’re naming a rifle range for
him and such-and-such.”
said he has connected countless people with the citations they
have needed to dedicate buildings and memorials to recipients, but
he’d rather the military took it out of his hands because “I’m
doing a job the government should be doing.”
urging the House and Senate veterans’ affairs and armed services
committees to hold hearings on the topic of military personnel
records, hoping that lawmakers will protect heroes and guard
against fakers by creating an “official” online national
database of valor award recipients.
sentiments are echoed by the nation’s largest veterans
organizations and may be gaining steam on the Hill.
awards, decorations and badges should already be electronically
filed for [discharge paperwork] purposes,” said Joe Davis,
national spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “Consolidating
such records in this information age should be a snap.”
Joyce, spokeswoman for the American Legion’s national
headquarters, called creating a national database of awards
recipients “a no-brainer.”
“devil’s advocate,” Joyce said the government should ensure
a national database doesn’t put “too much personal information”
in the public domain and noted that “while we’d like to
recognize all heroes, not all heroes would like to be recognized.”
John Salazar, D-Colo., who sits on the House Veterans’ Affairs
Committee, feels “it makes perfect sense for him to carry
legislation as a follow-up to Stolen Valor [Act of 2005],” which
he introduced in the House two years ago, said his spokesman, Rick
Palacio. The law made it a crime to claim unearned valor awards.
should be an accessible digital database of military records
including medals and awards,” he said. “I don’t know what
the likelihood of hearings are, but someone will take up the issue
of legislating the database in the near future. Congressman
Salazar has been giving it a lot of thought.”
Sam Graves, R-Mo., who signed onto the bill after a former Marine
in his district was caught wearing an unearned Navy Cross, may
again co-sponsor the legislation if Salazar introduces it in the
in very interested in this idea,” said his communications
director, Jason Klindt. “There should never be any doubt that
medals were won and not stolen, so he is committed to protecting
the integrity of these awards.”