Legislator Wolfe’s Resolution Establishes Penalties For Those Falsely Posing As Military Veterans For Personal Gain

New City, NY (May 11, 2018) – Rockland County Legislators voted 16-0 to adopt a new local law that penalizes those who pass themselves off as veterans or decorated veterans for personal gain.

The law, named in honor of former Rockland County Veterans Service Agency Director Jerry Donnellan, carries the potential of financial penalties and up to one year of imprisonment on a third or subsequent violation.

Legislator Alden H. Wolfe sponsored the resolution and recalled that his final conversation with Donnellan focused on theft of valor and that veterans wanted it to be addressed. The law sends a clear message that Rockland County won’t tolerate phony veterans or those falsely claiming they’ve earned certain military decorations, Legislator Wolfe said.

“If you have not served in the military, you don’t get to pretend that you have,” Legislator Wolfe said. “If you haven’t earned combat decorations, you don’t get to pretend that you have. To do so insults actual veterans, as well as decorated veterans, who have earned the right to be recognized, honored and rewarded for their service.”

Valor is defined as having great determination and even boldness in the face of tremendous danger and conflict. Those who have demonstrated valor in the field often faced overwhelming odds but through sheer determination and courage persevered.

Across the country, there have been numerous confirmed reports of what has become known as “theft of valor,” and the embellishment of service records – or outright fake claims of service – have extended from the highest ranking elected officials to everyday citizens.

President Reagan in 1983 said he filmed Nazi death camps even though he never left the U.S. while serving in the Army during World war II. Then-Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal in 2008 said he served in Vietnam even though he never left the U.S.

Most thefts of valor are done by everyday people, and there are dozens of news stories and videos on the internet that show some of the imposters being called out not only by the public, but by actual veterans.

On the federal level, Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act of 2013 and made it a crime for a person to fraudulently claim they received a valor award with the intention of obtaining money, property, or another tangible benefit.

A bill to address the issue on the state level passed the state Senate in 2017, but failed in the Assembly. A new version is now in the Senate, but has already died in the Assembly.

The Rockland County Sheriff’s Department will be responsible for enforcing the local law.

Jerry Donnellan was a Vietnam veteran who was wounded in action and received three Purple Hearts after being shot twice and wounded by a grenade. Donnellan worked tirelessly to improve the lives of veterans in Rockland County, joining the county Veterans Service Agency in 1988 and becoming its Commissioner in 1992. He died on March 23.

MariEllyn Dykstra supports naming the new law in honor of her late husband, Legislator Wolfe said. The adopted resolution has been sent to the County Executive, who has until June 27 to approve it, veto it or return it unsigned.

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