These Men Faked Being War Heroes
It’s a disturbingly common con
Faking vet is an insulting claim, for lots of reasons. But the Internet is awash with those who claim military service that didn’t happen, combat experiences made out of whole cloth — and have received or claimed unearned military decorations, honors and even money they didn’t earn.
In 2013, Pres. Barack Obama even signed a new version of the Stolen Valor Act into law. The original law made it a federal crime to lie about military service. But the Supreme Court, not surprisingly, ruled this unconstitutional in 2012, stating that merely lying about military service was too broad a basis for indictment and that the first law — signed into law by Pres. George W. Bush in 2005 — violated free speech.
The new law narrowed the definition of the crime from lying, to lying for profit.
There’s a long history here. Some of them do it to grift cash from the government — particularly in the form of medical benefits. Even more do it for fame, like Army Sgt. Timothy Poe, who embellished his military career to impress the viewers of America’s Got Talent.
People lie about being a veteran everyday. Many times, it’s not enough for these charlatans to pose and earn glory — and a little bit of cash — from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Sometimes they build profitable business on lies and falsified reputations.
This has even extended to war scams. As the Syrian civil war has escalated, scammers have made claims blasted out via email about ties to assassinated regime officials who’ve left behind purported piles of money — an update to the classic 419 (or “Nigerian”) email scams.
The ballad of John Giduck
On Nov. 20, 1987, John Giduck was discharged from the Army’s engineering school at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri , with the rank of private first class.
Since then, he’s built a career touring the country and speaking at various colleges and town hall meetings. He’s even been on the Glenn Beck show. Brad Thor, an author of political thrillers, sings his praises. Giduck has also promoted himself as an honorary Special Operations Forces member who trained with Russian special forces, and is purportedly a world-renowned expert in counter-terrorism.
Impressive achievements. His biography reads like the resume of the Most Interesting Man in the World.
“John is a 32nd degree Freemason and member of the ancient order of the Knights Templar. He is a black belt holder, is a multiple inductee into two international martial arts halls of fame, and trained with Russia’s elite special forces units annually for more than 10 years during which he became a certified instructor in Russian special forces hand-to-hand combat.
In 1980 he was co-captain of Penn State’s National Collegiate Weightlifting Championship Team, and in 1984 won the U.S. Open Weightlifting Championships in addition to receiving the Outstanding Lifter Award. Over the years he won or placed in numerous other state, regional and national weightlifting championships.”
But Giduck’s claims were so outlandish that people started to ask questions. Socnet is a message board that, since 1996, has served as a place for current and former Special Operations Forces members and their families to connect, vent and network.
One of the things they love to do is out military fakes. So when people started asking questions about Giduck, Socnet’s members started digging.
It didn’t take long for them to decide that Giduck was fudging his background. According to their findings, he couldn’t have been a Green Beret because of his discharge.
Penn State did not have a weightlifting team when Giduck attended, and his claims of being trained by Russian special forces amount to time spent at commercially available Russian adventure camps, where tourists pay to hang out with Spetsnaz.
One claim John Giduck makes is true. He is a lawyer. In the summer of 2012, he attempted to sue members of Socnet in civil court for defamation. The lawsuit didn’t go far. A judge threw it out and ordered Giduck to pay the legal fees of the 51 defendants.
But Giduck is still out there. Still selling books and lecturing. It pays to be a lawyer. Other hucksters aren’t as sophisticated or as lucky.
Tyler Matthew loves charity and he loves the troops. He loves them so much that he set up a charity to help them out. He recruited women to help him drum up funds in bars and restaurants through a Craigslist ad. Why did he do it? Well, he’s a veteran himself, he claimed.
But largely, this isn’t true. For one, his name isn’t Tyler Matthew but Matt Buckingham. When reporters with KMOV, a St. Louis television station, came across a Craigslist ad for a veterans charity managed by Buckingham, they investigated the claim.
Buckingham told them the Marines picked him up at 17, and was then — he told KMOV — employed by the Coast Guard, which operates underneath the Department of Homeland Security. He later corrected himself: “I’m not in the military,” he said, before threatening to sue the station.
This wasn’t KMOV’s first run in with Buckingham. In 2012, KMOV investigated a lawn care company owned by Buckingham and his father that claimed to donate 20 percent of its profits troops deployed to the Middle East. But none of the lawns were mowed, and the Better Business Bureau claimed the company hadn’t donated any money.
But here’s the problem. For the everyday fake vet, there are hundreds of online shops and dealers where the fraudster can buy medals and uniforms to lend credence to their personal mythology. The Internet also provides a cloak of relative anonymity.
Sites like Socnet and other military blogs make a sport to out these fakes, but what the internet gives it can also take away. These blogs’ brand of public humiliation is perfect for people posting selfies in dress blues on Facebook or walking around bars in dishevelled fatigues, but some of these fakes deserve harsher punishment.
When a person walks into a Veterans Affairs office with forged documents and demands benefits, they are defrauding taxpayers and stealing from veterans.
When someone inflates their service record to sell books and tickets to speaking engagements, they’re misrepresenting the military and dishonoring anyone who’s ever seen combat. The people who use lies to steal money, time and attention from others are the frauds that the new Stolen Valor Act is for.