The South Carolina General Assembly is considering a bill that would make it a crime for a person to lie about his or her military service or receive a medal in order to gain a tangible benefit.
State Rep. Stephen Goldfinch, R-Georgetown, said he filed the bill at the behest of the Georgetown VFW and other veterans in his district, which runs from Murrells Inlet to Mount Pleasant and is home to legions of military retirees.
Among those backing the bill is retired Marine Maj. Gen. James Livingston of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina’s only living Medal of Honor recipient.
“When people serve and sacrifice for this great nation, that service and sacrifice should be respected,” Livingston told The State. “I think every state should step up to the plate and follow South Carolina’s lead.”
The S.C. Military Service Integrity and Preservation Act would make misrepresenting military service for personal gain a misdemeanor with fines of up to $500 or 30 days in jail.
Most often, a person fakes military service to boost a resume and is caught during the interview process, Goldfinch said. Other times people claim to be active duty military to slow or halt foreclosures. Some use it to build goodwill for their businesses or professional services.
“Evidently, it’s an epidemic,” Goldfinch said. “Other House members and senators have run into the same problem. It’s a shame and a serious problem.”
He said in the past year Georgetown-area veterans have uncovered about a dozen people who said they were in the military and weren’t. Many times they even award themselves medals.
“It’s usually not something like the Medal of Honor,” Goldsmith said. “That’s too easy to trace. But there are a lot of purple hearts out there. You can get lost.”
He said just this week, someone impersonating a Marine was caught because he was wearing his ribbons upside down and on the wrong side of his tunic. He was also wearing a medal from another branch of service.
The bill, which passed the House 102-0 in January, was OK’d by a Senate panel this week and now heads to the Senate Judiciary committee, where it likely will have strong support.
Subcommittee chairman Tom Young, R-Aiken, asked if the fines could be boosted to match the federal Stolen Valor Act, with fines up to $1,000 and a year in jail.
Goldsmith said that would make it a felony in South Carolina, which might be harder to pass.
“But if that amendment passes, I would support it,” he said.