Military impostors hurt real veterans

Scott Lyon Feb 17, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: We’ve done a couple of stories the past few weeks about veterans working their way back into the civilian labor force, about the difficulties they’re having, about GE the other day saying it wants to hire 5,000 vets, and — unfortunately — what turned out to be a lie from a man who claimed he’d been an Army sniper in Iraq.

Commentator Scott Lyon was in Iraq with First Battalion, Fifth Marines. We checked.

Scott Lyon: I was discharged from the Marines in 2005 after a combat tour in Iraq. Since then I’ve read numerous accounts of men and women exaggerating or completely inventing stories of their military service. In many cases, these stories were reported as true.

To veterans, falsehoods of this sort can seem obvious, because fakers often don’t talk or act like us. They will give unprompted accounts of how many people they killed, prestigious medals they received, or secret missions they took part in.

They invariably claim to have been a SEAL, a sniper, a ranger or a member of some other elite force. They frequently punctuate their tales with references to deep-seated personal problems supposedly caused by military service. It’s a hero-victim narrative that many people seem all too happy to embrace. The impostors are looking for sympathy, for accolades, and sometimes for money or charity. At a time when thousands of soldiers are making the transition from war to civilian life, fakers have been known to siphon off services that could have gone to actual veterans.

When caught, the impostors often claim they only meant to honor the troops. They gloss over the fact that they are always the primary beneficiaries of their stories.

Many returning service personnel I know don’t have a problem sharing their stories. But their accounts rarely revolve around them. Instead, they typically recount the heroism and sacrifices of those they served alongside in battle. To hear people who have never borne this sacrifice attempt to claim it for their own is more than just insulting. It is damaging to real veterans everywhere. It reinforces stereotypes based in fiction. In a country where less than 1 percent of the population serves in the military, it creates a false impression that the veteran community cannot easily undo. Those who served deserve to have that service reflected accurately.

Ryssdal: Scott Lyon’s a law student now at the University of Iowa. We checked that too.

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