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Pentagon launches 'Stolen Valor' website for military medals

The Department of Defense unveiled a new website Wednesday listing recent recipients of the Medal of Honor, the military's highest award for valor.

The site is aimed at verifying claims of meritorious service in the military, but reaches back only as far as awards earned on Sept. 11, 2001 and after. It will eventually include awards for service crosses and the Silver Star, also dating back to 2001.


In June, the Supreme Court struck down the Stolen Valor Act, a federal law which prohibits a person from falsely claiming a military honor. Critics of the decision had called for a government-run database listing awards, and the Defense Department said earlier this month that it would establish a site.

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Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who appeared before a joint Congressional hearing on Wednesday morning to discuss transition programs for service members and veterans, told legislators that the department would possibly expand the information over time.

"This effort will raise public awareness about our nation's heroes and help deter those who might falsely claim military honors," Panetta said.

Joe Davis, national spokesperson for the VFW, told NBC News that the site "is a starting point that we hope will expand to the other valor medals, as well as the Purple Heart and combat awards like the Combat Infantryman's Badge."

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The site will not take the place of proposed federal legislation to amend the Stolen Valor Act, which the Supreme Court found in violation of the First Amendment right of free speech.

Last year, after the law was first struck down as unconstitutional by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, Sen. Scott Brown, D-Mass., and Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., introduced new legislation making it illegal for individuals to benefit from lying about their military service or record. That bill has not yet passed Congress.

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Douglas Sterner, who has posted honor awards as the curator of the Military Times Hall of Valor, told NBC News that the site is a "step in the right direction," though he hopes it will become comprehensive, not only in the scope of awards, but also in the details of meritorious service. 

"What these men and women have done, the details of their actions contained within their citations, is first and foremost American history," Sterner said. "Further, such a database should be able to answer the question decades from now, 'What did grandpa do to get the Silver Star in Iraq?' Any such effort is less about the men and women who did receive the awards ... and more about preserving history for future generations."

 Rebecca Ruiz is a reporter at NBC News. Follow her on Twitter here.

 

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