US v. Hamilton: Stolen Valor and Defrauding the VA - Part I
But, didn't the SCOTUS just address Stolen Valor?
They did, but as many a government body tends to do, they only dealt in half-measures. The entire statute popularly referred to as the Stolen Valor Act consisted of multiple parts. One part, addressed in Alvarez by SCOTUS, barred verbal claims of receiving military medals and commendations. You will recall Alvarez was convicted after making verbal boasts about receiving the Medal of Honor.
Another provision, which the Fourth Circuit addressed just in time to reach our inbox on the morning of Veterans Day (observed), dealt with wearing medals that one did not earn and of defrauding the Department of Veterans Affairs.
When PFC Michael Delos Hamilton, United States Marine Corps (Ret.) lost fingers in a training accident at Camp Lejeune in 1962, he was given an honorable discharge, a disability rating of 30 by the VA, and received monthly benefits, according to the court.
In 1997, 2006, 2007, and 2009, Hamilton petitioned for additional benefits based on PTSD from serving in Vietnam. He dropped the initial attempts, but on the final application, he submitted to a psychological evaluation where he claimed to have served in undocumented special forces activities, which led to his PTSD, a plate in his head, a piece of bullet in his back, and the loss of half of his stomach.
According to the court, Hamilton also stated that he has a massive distrust of "Orientals," speaks Vietnamese when angry, overreacted to loud sounds and to being touched or grabbed, and he once fought an "oriental" waiter after he saw him with a knife out of the corner of his eye.
Of course, not many PFCs are in the special forces, so he claimed to reach the rank of Colonel. As a result of his lies, he received more than $30,000 in benefits before they caught on.
Meanwhile, he also, on numerous occasions, dressed in uniforms reflecting a rank higher than PFC (including at one point, a general), and visited military bases to shop. He was warned on multiple occasions to drop the act.
The reality is, he never saw combat and was never deployed. Though he deserves respect for his nine months of service, and sympathy for the loss of his fingers, the displaying of insignia not earned lessens the achievement of those who do earn the medals. The arguments against such actions also point out that displaying fake rank also has the possibility of impeding the chain of command.
Despite his brilliant defense of "they should have known I was lying," Hamilton's convictions for stealing benefits from the VA were quickly upheld. The true question was whether, in light of Alvarez, the convictions for violating the Stolen Valor Act could stand. We'll have more on that intricate constitutional question later this week.
- United States v. Hamilton (Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals)
- Justice Kennedy Wants You to Fight Lies with Truth (FindLaw's Supreme Court Blog)
- Stop, Valor Thief? DOJ Asks for Supreme Court Speech Opinion (FindLaw's Supreme Court Blog)