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Military service claims


Many people falsely claim military service, including some martial artists. Pseudo-masters don't just claim false military service, since they consider themselves so "special," they also falsely claim high rank, awards, and membership in elite forces, such as SEALs or Recon. The following information helps you sort out the truth about military service claims.

What is a veteran?

A veteran is a person who served in the armed forces and received an honorable discharge, no matter the length of service. Thus, a veteran may have served a year or more than 30 years. Legally, weird as may seem, anyone may claim to be a veteran if the claim is not used to gain some type of a veteran benefit.

A military service person may receive an honorable discharge for each completed term of service (for enlisted each term is from 2 to 6 years), so a person may have one or more honorable discharges before receiving a less than honorable discharge and no longer be qualified to serve. Therefore, anyone with at least one honorable discharge may claim to be a veteran, even is the person was ultimately dishonorably discharged. This person may still be classified as a veteran by the government, but amongst veterans, the person is a disgrace to the service.

What is a war veteran?

Officially, a veteran of a war is any person who served honorably during the war, whether in the field of combat or not. For example, a Vietnam War veteran is anyone who served on active duty for a period of more than 180 days, any part of which occurred between August 5, 1964 and May 7, 1975, and was discharged or released with other than a dishonorable discharge. Therefore, a person may legally claim to be a Vietnam War veteran even though he or she never served outside the United States. However, amongst Vietnam War veterans, this is not the case; they make a distinction between serving during the time of a war and serving in the war zone.

Military awards

It is against the law to manufacture, wear, buy, sell, or trade the Medal of Honor; however, other medals are routinely and legally made, sold, and bought. It is not against the law to wear awards or claim to have earned them, except for those listed in the Stolen Valor Act of 2013 (see below for more information on the act).

Special forces

Veterans who served in the special forces, such as Navy SEALs, Marine Recon, Army Rangers, etc. will have this designation noted on their DD-214 Block 13- Decorations, Medals, Citations, and Campaign Ribbons Awarded or Authorized. In the case of SEALs, they must complete Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) training. BUD/S training completion is not secret information. Any true SEAL will know his BUD/S company number and other members of that company and will be able to tell you about it them.

False claims

The Stolen Valor Act of 2005, signed into law by President George W. Bush on December 20, 2006, broadened the provisions of previous U.S. law addressing the unauthorized wear, manufacture, or sale of any military decorations and medals. It made it a federal misdemeanor to falsely represent oneself as having received any U.S. military decoration or medal. If convicted, defendants might have been imprisoned for up to six months, unless the decoration lied about is the Medal of Honor, in which case imprisonment could have been up to one year.

In United States v. Alvarez, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on June 28, 2012, that the Stolen Valor Act was an unconstitutional abridgment of the freedom of speech under the First Amendment, striking down the law in a 6 to 3 decision. According to the Supreme Court, the Constitution guarantees you the right to lie about your military service.

In response to the Supreme Court ruling, Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act of 2013 which amended the federal criminal code to rewrite provisions relating to fraudulent claims about military service to subject a person to a fine, imprisonment for not more than one year, or both when the person, with intent to obtain money, property, or another tangible benefit, fraudulently holds himself or herself out to be a recipient of:
  • Medal of Honor (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard)
  • Distinguished Service Cross
  • Navy Cross
  • Air Force Cross
  • Silver Star
  • Purple Heart
  • Combat Infantryman's Badge
  • Combat Action Badge
  • Combat Medical Badge
  • Combat Action Ribbon
  • Combat Action Medal
  • Any replacement or duplicate medal for such medal as authorized by law.

As the law currently stands, anyone may claim to be a veteran, a war veteran, an ex-SEAL, an ex-military martial art instructor, a medal winner, or practically anything else without breaking any law (unless it for some benefit and is one of the listed awards), so be aware of false claims by martial art “masters.” However, this does not preclude groups from exposing and shaming people who make false claims of military service. Some of these groups include:

While in the Navy, I taught taekwondo on a naval base to naval personnel with the approval of the navy; however, that does not mean I was a Navy martial arts instructor. In addition, if some of my students were SEALs, that does not mean I was a SEAL martial arts instructor.


If you really want to verify a person's military service claims, you could request to see their DD-214 (see below). However, you do not have to request proof of claims to verify them to your own satisfaction.

During normal conversation with the person ask questions that a legitimate claimant should know, listen to the “war stories” to see if they seem authentic and whether they change each time they are told, listen to whether the claimant is using the correct terminology that a military person would or should use or know, and ask questions about the area in which the person claimed to have served. Then judge for yourself if you think the person fits the character and personality of what you believe a person of the claimed military status should possess.

Military Awards for Valor - Top 3 is a website published by the United States Department of Defense to track recipients of the top 3 awards in the United States military. You can use it check for the name of someone who claims to have been awarded one of these awards.

The DD Form 214, usually referred to as the DD-214, is a United States Department of Defense document issued upon a military service member's retirement, separation, or discharge from active military duty. EVERY prior military person was issued a DD Form 214 upon separation. For more information on military service records, go to the National Archives.

There are 8 copies of the original DD Form 214. The two that are issued to the discharged member are the:
  • Member 1 copy. It is usually referred to as the "short copy." It omits the characterization of service and reason for discharge.
  • Member 4 copy (if requested). It is usually referred to as the "long copy." It includes the characterization of service and reason for discharge. 

So, a person who does not want you to see his or her reason for separation or discharge he or she will only show you the Member 1 short copy.

The DD Form 214N Report of Separation From Active Duty is issued when the member is immediately reenlisting after completion of an enlistment.

Be careful, like any other document, the DD-214 may be altered or be a complete fake.

The following items are shown on the DD-214 Member 2 long form but are omitted from the Member 1 short form:
  • Block 23 Type of Separation. Provides the type of separation, such as discharge, retirement, transfer to reserves, etc.
  • Block 24 Character of Service. Provides the character of service:
  • Honorable. To receive an honorable discharge, you must have received a rating from good to excellent for your service. Even though you may only qualify for a general discharge, you may receive an honorable discharge under two circumstances:
  • When you are separated because of a disability incurred in the line of duty.
  • When you receive any awards for gallantry in action, heroism, or other types of meritorious service.
  • General (under honorable conditions). You receive a general discharge when you separate from the service, under honorable conditions, without a sufficiently meritorious military record to deserve an honorable discharge. This means that, although you have not been in any serious trouble, you just cannot “hack it” in the military or maintain its standards of conduct or professionalism. Some think because a general discharge is given under honorable conditions, it is as good as the honorable discharge itself. However, it is not. A general discharge indicates satisfactory service but not to the established standard of the military. If you receive one of the following discharges, you can say you were once in the military service, but you are not considered a veteran. 
  • Other than honorable (OTH). You receive an other than honorable discharge for misconduct or security reasons. This discharge may be issued administratively without the approval of a general or a special court-martial.
  •  Bad conduct (BCD). You receive a bad conduct discharge when you separate from the service under conditions other than honorable. It may only be issued as a part of an approved sentence of a general or a special court-martial, which is equivalent to a federal criminal conviction.
  • Dishonorable (DD). You receive a dishonorable discharge when you separate from the service under dishonorable conditions. It may only be issued as a part of an approved sentence of a general or a special court-martial, which is equivalent to a federal criminal conviction.
  • Block 25 Separation Authority. Provides the regulation that authorizes the separation, such as MILPERSMAN 3855180.
  • Block 26 Separation Code. The Separation Program Number (SPN) provides the reason the separation. These codes are contained in your military records and may be annotated on various military separation documents. These codes are subject to change, and the Department of Defense (DOD) will no longer allow the military services to release the meanings of these codes to the public. 
List of SPN codes. These definitions were obtained before the DOD prohibition went into effect.
  • Block 27 Reentry Code. The reentry/reenlistment (RE) code provides information about the member's ability to reenlist in the armed services. The codes and the ability to reenlist vary from service to service. For example, a sailor may be discharged due to motion sickness but this may not prevent the sailor from serving in the Army.
List of reentry/reenlistment codes.

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