Under the federal Stolen Valor Act of 2006, it is against the law to wear unauthorized military medals or lie about your military record for personal gain.

Under the federal Stolen Valor Act of 2006, it is against the law to wear unauthorized military medals or lie about your military record for personal gain.

Violators of the federal misdemeanor can be fined up to $100,000 and be sentenced to up to a year in jail.

Two court cases in California and Colorado are now challenging that law, claiming it reaches too far and violates the First Amendment rights of free speech.

Jim Willis, director of the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs, believes veterans down through history fought for the right of free speech, not the right to lie.

"You can't base free speech on a lie," he said.

Willis predicted the defense will ultimately fail in court. "If it doesn't, then we are in a lot worse shape as a country than lying about military service," he said.

Those who encounter a veteran wearing a medal or claiming a military accomplishment that seems dubious should contact the nearest chapter of a veterans organization, Willis said.

"When someone claims something they are not, they need to be held accountable," Willis said. "They should contact the local Military Order of the Purple Heart chapter, the Disabled American Veterans or the Veterans of Foreign Wars — any of the major veterans organizations."

When asked questions that probe their military service, phonies often answer they can't talk about it because it is classified or the documents were somehow destroyed, Willis said. Yet anyone awarded a medal for a classified action would be able to produce evidence of an award ceremony, he said.

Other telltale evidence includes a medal worn incorrectly or an obvious age discrepancy, he said.

People can check online at www.pownetwork.org/phonies/phonies.htm to see whether the person already has been reported, he said.

The website, www.homeofheroes.com, also has a "bust a phony" form.

— Paul Fattig