By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS – About two dozen members and guests of the Armed Forces E9 Association, Inc. gathered at the association's national headquarters Saturday to hear Mary Schantag of the P.O.W. Network of Skidmore, Mo., talk about the 3,400 names they've confirmed as fraudulent claimants of high military medals or disabled or prisoner-of-war status, or all three.
"We've determined that 30 percent of the people listed as Medal of Honor winners never received the medal," she said. "In all, 20 to 40 percent of all military records showing honors or qualifications for special government assistance are fraudulent. It breaks the law to make fraudulent claims and breaks others to use them to gain benefits, but the FBI and federal courts are overloaded with drug and violent crimes, so most people get away with this."
Schantag had a roster of about 3,400 names she said the network had established were bogus medal winners, disabled veterans or former prisoners of war taped to the wall.
The occasion was the E9 Association's second annual Stolen Valor Seminar at its Charlie R. Green Memorial Hall. The group, open to active duty military personnel and retirees who reached the top enlisted pay grade of E9, was incorporated in 1984. President Curtis Leary lives in North Carolina, but adjutant and chief operating officer Earl Williams lives here. The organizer of Saturday's event was treasurer Erwin Hunter, who served in the Army and the Marine Corps.
Schantag and her husband, Chuck Schantag, a disabled veteran, founded the P.O.W. Network in 1988 and received 22 complaints the first year. Now she said they receive reports of suspected fraud every week and check them all out with the Defense Department. The nonprofit corporation receives no government funds.
She told of a man who was posing as a military chaplain and conducting wedding ceremonies for military couples who would then try to record their marriages on post, only to be warned of possible courts-martial.
"Children will call in to say their father is representing himself as a Medal of Honor winner or disabled veteran," she said.
"We'll hear that a wife has tried to get military honors for her deceased husband, only to be told he was not even a veteran. The problem is that you can download all the documents the services used to issue and fill them out yourself and then give them to the Veterans Administration or other authority, who don't have time to check everything," Schantag said.
No proper records
One tipoff in a fraudulent prisoner-of-war claim is that the term seldom appears on genuine DD-214's (records of military service) issued before the mid-1980s.
She reeled off a list of 12 selected cases of fraud she said cost the government $924,000 in benefits, bilking the public and shortchanging qualified veterans.
"A man can say he was bitten by rats in a POW cell and escaped, running six miles in his skivvies until he reached friendly troops, and it sounds more convincing than most stories that are actually the truth, which is usually nowhere near that dramatic," she said.
She lauded U.S. House Resolution 3769, introduced by Rep. John Salazar of Colorado and co-sponsors to mandate a searchable database of military decorations and promoted the use of the SF-180, which service personnel or veterans can sign to authorize investigations of claims about their service.
"Anyone can obtain a blank DD-214 and falsify it," she said. "If the VA and veterans organizations would insist on this form, they could cut way down on fraud. If a fraudulent claimant is presented with it, he'll just refuse to sign it."
In addition, most information on veterans is available through the Freedom of Information Act.
Stolen Valor Act helps
In 2005, President Bush signed the Stolen Valor Act, which makes a misdemeanor of any false claim to have been awarded any military decoration or medal.
Schantag said, "We're not talking about guys just telling stories in a bar. We're talking about people cheating the government and the public out of millions of dollars and cheating legitimate veterans by using up money and time. They speak in our schools and churches, and if their names aren't removed from records, then historical documents are false."
She said claims to have served in high-profile elite units such as the Army Rangers and Navy Seals are far more common than others.
Some fraudulent claimants have never been in the military, but others are veterans trying to enhance their status. She did not have figures on how many of the 34,000 the network has documented might be in the Fort Hood vicinity but told a story of one person whose prisoner-of-war status the network has challenged, so far without resolution.
Not enough time to check claims
She said federal authorities don't have time or resources enough to investigate all cases and called for state governments to enact laws prohibiting fraudulent claims of service and benefitting from such claims. Several members of the audience expressed interest in contacting legislators to introduce such bills.
Some states already have laws covering various aspects of the issue.
Other E9 activities
The E9 Association sponsors a POW/MIA event on Fort Hood each September, and members help with the annual Killeen Veterans Day parade, among other community services. Williams said other veterans organizations and auxiliaries are regularly invited to association events.
Contact Don Bolding at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7557.