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Friday, May 1, 2015

Website stands as a guardian against stolen valor

By Sara Belsole. CREATED Apr 27, 2015
FORT MYERS, Fla. - Far from home, away from loved ones, military men and women put their lives on the line.  They wear their uniforms with pride as they protect and serve our country, but there are people who abuse that pride.
A few months ago, a Tampa man was captured on camera who appeared to be wearing a fake Army uniform to collect donations. A woman in Alabama was busted in an airport for claiming to be returning home from deployment. ​
"I see someone else claiming to be in the military when they're not, trying to reap some sort of benefit from someone else's hard work; it's sickening, it makes me sick to my stomach," says PFC Cameron Knowlen in the Army Reserves in Cape Coral.
He's seen first hand a friend falsely claim to have served in the military.  "It's disgusting to me and I lost a lot of respect for that person."
It seems to be happening more and more. Men and women are embellishing service records or posing as members of the military to impress friends, get a date or even collect money from the government.
"It's gone way farther than I ever imagined," SSG Anthony Anderson said. "I didn't think it would get this big, it's an epidemic."
So Anderson decided to do something about it. After he returned home from serving in Afghanistan in 2010, he set up a web page called Guardian of Valor.  "The public really isn't aware of what stolen valor entails," Anderson said. "They don't know the regulations, so the frauds use this to their advantage."
The site gets about one million views a month and thousands of stolen valor tips pour in from across the country. Anderson spends months investigating, requesting military documents, and using a network of sources.
If he can prove without a doubt someone is lying, they end up on the Hall of Shame.
"A lot of law enforcement watches our website, and if they see something in their jurisdiction they think can be prosecuted, a lot of them will reach out to us," says Anderson.
Some, like Tampa man Danny Crane, end up behind bars.
Crane first popped up on the Guardian of Valor's radar when he attended a funeral for a fallen soldier, telling the widow he served with her husband. Not only was that a lie, but Crane also filed fake documentation that earned him more than $7,000 in benefits and a free trip to Hawaii from a veteran organization.
"He had this complete life built around this fake, this lie," says Anderson.
Crane's case was a slam dunk, but Anderson says sometimes it's not as easy to file criminal charges, especially in Florida.  "The way it's written, it's hard to prosecute anyone under that law."
But no matter what the law says, Anderson won't stop educating the community on stolen valor and holding people who lie about military service accountable.  "For someone to claim something they didn't earn, it just slaps their memory, slaps what they did in the face."