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Bill Increases Punishment For Pseudo Soldiers

Posted at 6:11 PM, Mar 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-30 00:16:47-04

A bill to increase penalties for people who fake military membership to gain benefits moved closer to becoming law by passing through the criminal justice committee.

The lie can come in different forms: sometimes the person is decorated in medals they've never earned or pretend to be a certain rank or have a certain amount of service they haven't completed.

No matter what form it takes, some lawmakers want it to stop.

"When people betray that trust to steal, that's a different level of thievery altogether," said Representative Tilman Goins, a sponsor of one of two bills addressing the matter. "If someone is going to take something from somebody but try to falsify their service or try to falsify their service record in order to do that. That's really an extra egregious effort."

Goins sponsored House Bill 1779, which would increase penalties of crimes committed while faking military service by one step. For example, a class B misdemeanor would be increased to a class A misdemeanor. 

The bill was spurred on by a case out of Knoxville in which a man misrepresented his military service and used his position to embezzle nearly $10,000 from an American Legion post.

Donald Hunley was arrested in 2016 for the crimes and sentenced in March to 10 years in prison. 

"We had an individual who was only a military for member for about five weeks back in 93'," said Bob Dewald, executive director of post two. "But he had embellished his story that he had combat time and PTSD that was combat related. And he was on different service units and he said was in for 17 years and he used that as sympathy to gain monetary gain and that happened to be stealing $10,000 from our post for his personal use."

Goins pulled his bill Wednesday in favor of a very similar bill that is championed by representative Micah Van Huss. His bill would create a penalty of a class A misdemeanor for anyone faking military service for tangible gain. 

Van Huss' bill passed through criminal justice committee. Goins said he hopes the bill will act as a deterrent to people who would abuse veterans' trust.

"We go to combat together," said Bob Dewald. "We sit in the same foxhole together. If you can't trust that person, there's a bond there that others don't understand. When somebody breaks that trust, that's one of the worst things you can do as another veteran is to do that."