Senator presses DoD to improve awards records

Army Times

by Andrew Tilghman

Lawmakers are stepping up pressure on the Pentagon to create a publicly accessible database of all military award winners that could easily expose military fakers who falsely claim those honors.

Sen. John Tester, D-Mont., wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Tuesday criticizing the “inadequate record-keeping of military service awards.”

“When questions about the validity of an individual’s claims or awards documentation are raised, the United States military should be able to expediently verify the details of that individual’s military service, and any service honors earned or awarded to that service member,” Tester wrote.

The issue is timely because the Supreme Court is considering a challenge to the Stolen Valor Act, which makes it a crime to lie about receiving military medals. The court in February heard a challenge to that law claiming it violates the First Amendment right to freedom of speech.

Tester asked Panetta to provide detailed information about the Defense Department’s current record-keeping, which officials say includes numerous databases. Critics say getting official confirmation of military service awards can take weeks or even months and is not always accurate.

“I strongly believe that a more complete and comprehensive database that encompasses service awards from each branch of the military would help verify the authenticity of documentation and prevent the improper awarding of service medals,” Tester wrote.

Currently, the most comprehensive list of military awards available to the public is the Hall of Valor, an online archive maintained by Doug Sterner, an affiliate of the Military Times newspapers.

On Feb. 29, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform summoned several Pentagon officials to discuss the record-keeping relating to military honors. Those officials said the current system, which uses numerous databases maintained internally, works well and does not need any changes.