The Clarion

Stolen valor: Veterans fight a battle at home

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Mike Alexander, Copy Editor

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On Feb. 21, 2015, a military veteran noticed something odd about Lieutenant Michael Cipriani of the United States Army sitting across from him at the Baltimore Washington National Airport. The veteran struck up a friendly conversation with the lieutenant; thanking him for his service and commenting on the unfortunate weather they had been having.

But the conversation took a sharp turn when the veteran asked Lt. Cipriani about his wartime service and where he received his combat patch. Cipriani pointed to a patch on his left shoulder indicating he was with the Explosive Ordinance Disposal unit (EOD), but this was not the right patch. Concerned, the veteran began to ask simple questions any commissioned officer should be able to answer for which Cipriani had no reply. It became obvious to the veteran that the man he was talking to was an imposter pretending to have served in the military.

While pretending to be a member of the armed forces is constitutionally protected by the first amendment, using that fraudulent status to gain anything of value is illegal. Michael Cipriani, actually Kelsey Hoover, was believed to have dressed in a military uniform to get discounts on flights, making him a perpetrator of stolen valor.

In 2013, president Obama signed the amended Stolen Valor Act into effect. This act makes it a felony to use a fake military background for financial gains and states “Whoever, with intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit, fraudulently holds oneself out to be a recipient of a decoration or medal” will be fined, serve prison time or both.

According to an interview with NBC26 News, FBI agent Jerry Mullen says civilians often put on a uniform to get a free drink or to impress others. The FBI takes other cases, like receiving military discounts and defrauding military benefits programs, much more seriously.  “The notion” says Mullen “that this is somehow a victimless crime is absurd.”

Last year a woman from Iowa was arrested and sentenced to 5 years in prison for stealing nearly 10,000 dollars in healthcare benefits from the United States Department of Veteran’s Affairs. By forging documents and claiming to be a veteran, she had not only made real veterans wait in line for proper healthcare, but also cheated the taxpayers.

But the FBI is not the only organization committed to stopping these imposters. The website is composed of veteran as well as active duty service members working to bring to the public’s attention those to falsely claim to have served. The website states “Our mission at Guardians of Valor LLC, is to out those who falsely claim military service and/or claim unauthorized medals or tabs.”

Out of the hundreds of imposters Guardians of Valor has been tipped to check out, only a handful are real veterans. The case with Kelsey Hoover (AKA Lt. Michael Cipriani) is one if their latest, and most elaborate, cases of fraud yet. After digging through public records, veterans on the website found that in addition to never having served in the military, Hoover is wanted in Hewitt Texas for a felony charge. Guardians of Valor have given all of their information to the police regarding Hoover but so far no arrests have been made.

Whether it’s a patch, medals or a uniform, veterans have paid a price to earn those decorations. Wearing military accommodations and claiming to be a veteran is disrespectful and in most cases illegal. Even if it’s simply to get the attention of others, being a fraud is not a victimless crime.

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Stolen valor: Veterans fight a battle at home