Tester: Time to improve recordkeeping of military awards

Senator says better database will ensure due recognition, fight fraud

 

(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester is telling the Defense Department that better cataloging of military awards is needed to properly honor the nation’s heroes.

The Defense Department currently does not have a comprehensive database for military awards like medals, citations, and ribbons.  The Department is often unable to quickly verify service members’ awards, making it difficult to prevent fraudulent claims.  In 2011, a U.S. lawmaker from Utah presented a man with numerous honors after receiving false paperwork.

“When questions about the validity of an individual’s claims or awards are raised, the United States military should be able to expediently verify any service honors earned,” Tester wrote Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. “I strongly believe that a more complete and comprehensive database would help verify documentation and prevent the improper awarding of service awards.”

Tester, Montana’s only member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, regularly helps Montana veterans secure medals that they earned, but never received.  He says better record-keeping will also help deserving service members receive the recognition they earned in a more timely and efficient manner. 

Tester asked Panetta to explain how the Defense Department collects and maintains awards in its current database and to review its process for validating awards documentation.

“A more complete and comprehensive database will ensure that the service records of brave men and women are not lost to history without receiving due recognition from a grateful nation,” Tester wrote.

Tester also noted that an improved database will help the VA properly provide veterans with healthcare and other benefits.

Tester most recently presented four awards each to Vietnam veteran Paul Walborn and Gulf War veteran Mark Hamill.

Tester’s letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is available below and online HERE.

###

 

March 6, 2012

The Honorable Leon Panetta

Secretary

Department of Defense

1000 Defense Pentagon

Washington, DC 20301-1000

Dear Secretary Panetta:

I write today to express my concerns about the Department of Defense’s (DoD) inadequate record-keeping of military service awards.  To preserve the integrity of these awards and to better ensure veterans receive the recognition they are due, I request the Pentagon take additional steps to develop and maintain a more comprehensive database of service awards, particularly those earned in combat.

As you know, the issue of military awards was recently highlighted before the Supreme Court in United States v. Javier Alvarez. Mr. Alvarez was charged and convicted under the Stolen Valor Act, a 2006 federal law that makes lying about military honors a crime.  The outcome of his appeal will ultimately determine whether the Stolen Valor Act holds up to Constitutional scrutiny.

Regardless of the case’s outcome, one thing is indisputable – 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.  I am aware of a number of instances in which that is simply not the case and have a number of concerns about the Defense Department’s current efforts. 

To what extent does the Pentagon collect and maintain awards in its current database of military records?  How complete is that database and to what extent can it be considered accurate?  In seeking to prevent the improper issuance of military awards in the future, what process does the Pentagon currently use to validate submitted awards documentation? 

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 awards.  It would also ensure that deserving service members and veterans receive proper recognition for their service in a more timely and efficient manner, and that the service records of brave men and women are not lost to history without receiving due recognition from a grateful nation.

Our nation can never do enough to recognize the sacrifices made by generations of American men and women who have served our nation in uniform.  By ensuring they receive the military honors and awards they are due, our nation can bestow a small token of appreciation in which they and their families can take pride.  The development of a more comprehensive database of military awards would more effectively ensure that we can carry out that duty.    

I appreciate your consideration of this request and look forward to your response.

Sincerely,

(s)                   

Jon Tester

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