Veterans Day is almost upon us. It is a day to honor and remember those who have served in America’s Armed Forces.
But there is also a problem underneath the surface, and that is fraudulent veterans. These are people who did not served in the armed forces but claim to do so. They usually pass themselves off as seeing combat, launching a web of lies that might even fool a real veteran who had been on the frontline.
Aside from fake veterans, there are also veterans who lied about their service. Such scenarios range from being in-country (where a war took place) when they were actually stationed somewhere else, claiming to have been in combat even though they were assigned to non-combatant roles/areas, or saying they were in one branch of the service but actually served in another branch.
Why do they do it? Some have been unsuccessful throughout their lives, and lie in order to get sympathy from others. Others try to one-up actual veterans. But the main reason is to scam people and organizations, such as the Department of Veterans Affairs, which at times has not always done a thorough job of verifying one’s veteran status (which is why it should be placed under the Department of Defense). Their scams have cost taxpayers billions of taxpayers.
I have heard about such stories, but I really started to learn more about this topic when I read the book Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation Was Robbed of Its Heroes and Its History by B.G. Burkett and Glenna Whitley. In this book, co-author Burkett talks about his service in Vietnam, his post-war life, and his efforts on exposing fraudulent Vietnam Veterans.
In addition to fraudulent Vietnam Veterans, there have also been fraudulent veterans from other wars, particularly America’s wars of the Twenty-First Century. Burkett and company have also exposed these frauds. And I should point out that there are other groups out there who are committed to exposing fake veterans.
Just how do you detect a fraudulent veteran? If he or she tells a story with one or more inconsistencies. If they claim to be homeless despite having an extinguished service record (e.g. a highly decorated Army Ranger or Navy Seal).
Then comes the process of exposing them. If their story has its share of consistencies, then you might be able to call them out. But you can also verify their claims. One way you can do this is to ask the individual to release his or her DD 214 form, which contains the complete service record. However, it should be noted that only the veteran in question, or their next-of-kin, can request this form, which in turn can be an obstacle. The individual also might not be cooperative in releasing his or her service record.
So your next option would be obtaining the individual’s SF 180, which is a condensed version of an individual’s service record. You will need the individual’s name and social security number, and mention the Freedom of Information Act when submitting the request.
In 1973, there was a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, and as many as 18 million service records were destroyed. Many fake Veterans (particularly fake Vietnam Veterans) claim their service records were destroyed in the fire. That is not true, since the records destroyed consisted mainly of Army personnel records from 1912 to 1960, and Air Force personnel records from September 25, 1947 to January 1, 1964. Of course, the National Personnel Records Center is not the only place to obtain such information, including the files that were destroyed in the fire.
Some phony veterans say that their service records no longer exist because they were involved in covert operations, and the government covered up the operation by destroying their service records. That is a lie. Any military personnel who participated in such operations will still have their records on file. As for the covert operation, it might just say “classified”, with the applicable dates and perhaps the location. The training required for such operations will also be documented, with the applicable date and location on one’s file.
So if some homeless guy comes up to you wanting spare change, and says he served in Vietnam, or you meet someone who claims to be a combat veteran but whose story is filled with consistencies, odds are they are a fake veteran. Don’t be afraid to quiz them, and don’t be afraid to expose them.