Bill Inspired by Recent Spate of Imposters Caught on Video Impersonating Military Personnel
(TRENTON) – The General Assembly approved legislation on Thursday sponsored by Assembly Democrats Vince Mazzeo, Bob Andrzejczak, Joseph Lagana, Raj Mukherji, Cleopatra Tucker and Carmelo G. Garcia to crack down on individuals who demean members of the U.S. Armed Forces by falsely impersonating veterans or active duty military in order to try and receive various perks.
The bill was inspired by recent reports of a growing trend in which veterans and active-duty troops record people they believe are faking military service, often times to try and receive various perks, and post the results on social media. In one of the most recent videos, which has received nearly five million hits on YouTube, a veteran at the Oxford Valley Mall in Pennsylvania questions a man in army fatigues who claims to have served in Afghanistan and Iraq as a member of the elite Army Rangers, but clearly appears unfamiliar with proper military protocol.
“Anyone who attempts to obtain any financial benefit or perks by knowingly lying about their military or veteran status really stoops to a new low,” said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). “These examples of Stolen Valor demean those who have served in the military and those who have sacrificed and lost their lives in defense of our nation. It is my hope that this legislation and its harsh penalties will help dissuade anyone from continuing this heinous practice.”
The bill, designated the “New Jersey Stolen Valor Act,” seeks to crack down on these imposters by making it a crime of the third degree, with a mandatory minimum fine of $1,000, to knowingly misrepresent oneself as a veteran or member of the military for the purpose of obtaining money, property or another benefit by wearing the uniform or any medal or insignia authorized for use by the members or veterans of the United Armed Forces or the organized militia.
“Every soldier earns each and every stripe or promotion with hard work and dedication to their country,” said Andrzejczak (D-Cape May, Atlantic, Cumberland). “To impersonate a veteran and benefit from the service and sacrifice of real military men and woman is disgraceful. It deserves punishment to the fullest extent of the law.”
Currently, state law makes it a crime of the fourth degree to knowingly present oneself as a veteran or a member of the military with the intent to deceive, but not necessarily for the purpose of obtaining any kind of benefit, by wearing a military uniform or medal or insignia.
“The invaluable experience and knowledge of military men and women cannot be easily duplicated,” said Lagana (D-Bergen, Passaic). “There should be a penalty those who try to impersonate them and take advantage of military perks and benefits offered in New Jersey.”
“Service men and women put their lives on the line in the most dangerous of situations to protect our freedoms here and abroad,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “Impersonation of a soldier is nothing to take lightly. Men and women have earned their status as members of the U.S. Armed Force and must be given the respect and honor they deserve for their service.”
Additionally, this bill would make false statements regarding oneself as a recipient of any decoration or medal of the U.S. Armed Forces or organized militia for the purpose of obtaining money, property or another benefit a crime of the third degree, with a mandatory minimum fine of $1,000.
State law does not presently prohibit false statements about military or veteran status.
Federal law prohibits both the unauthorized wearing of a military uniform or any distinctive part thereof and false statements as to receipt of military decorations or medals for the purpose of obtaining money, property, or some other tangible benefit.
“Impersonating a military officer in order to take advantage of special benefits is a despicable act and it should be a crime in New Jersey,” said Tucker (D-Essex).
“Individuals who impersonate the military are mocking the sacrifices made by real service men and women,” said Garcia (D-Hudson). “The bill makes it clear that this behavior will not be tolerated in New Jersey.”
Any fines collected under this bill would be dedicated to the Military Dependents Scholarship Fund, which would be established by legislation (A-2489) which was approved by the General Assembly in July and is pending in the Senate. The fund would provide college scholarships to the spouses and children of those killed, missing in action or disabled in the Post 9/11 Operation Noble Eagle, Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom, or Operation New Dawn.
Until this fund is established, any fines collected under this bill would be dedicated to the “NJ National Guard State Family Readiness Council Fund,” to provide assistance to New Jersey National Guard members and their families affected by extended deployment during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The full Assembly passed the legislation 74-0. It was approved by the Assembly Military and Veterans Affairs Committee on March 19.