After years of pressure from veterans, the U.S. government is finally cracking down on phony veterans, particularly those who claim to have been POWs (Prisoners Of War) . Many of these fakes go even farther, and claim to be POWS when they claim disability payments from the Veterans Administration. There is a financial incentive to make the claim, but for years, this has resulted in an obvious pattern of fraud.
There are only 661 officially recognized U.S. POWs from the Vietnam period. About 550 of those are alive, but the VA says they are paying disability payments to 966 "Vietnam POWs." It got worse after the 1991 Gulf War. There were 21 officially recognized POWs during that conflict, but the VA is paying disability to 286 Gulf War POWs. For years, the VA claimed that they checked out the records before recognizing all these phony POW vets. Once recognized as a POW by the VA, you have several financial benefits (like not having to make copayments for medical services). Thus the fake POWs are also guilty of stealing money from the government. Veterans groups believe the VA resisted dealing with this obvious fraud because of unwillingness to deal with the resulting bad publicity.
Veteran groups have, increasingly, been going after these phonies independently, and have unmasked over 2,000 POW poseurs. These groups have also exposed many more non-veterans who claimed service, including medals not earned. Some of these imposters even used fake documents to claim veterans benefits. But most just did it to impress friends and acquaintances.
Some of the most outrageous fakers pretended to be veterans of elite units (Special Forces, Delta Force, Rangers and SEALS). The boldest fakes pretend to have been U.S. Navy SEALs. The real SEALs are elite amphibious commandoes, and there arent many of them (fewer than a thousand on active duty at any one time.) There are only a few thousand real SEAL veterans out there. Yet in the last decade, over 25,000 people have been exposed as pretending to be former SEALs. There are two volunteer (AuthentiSEAL.org and VeriSeal.org) organizations out there that expose these phonies. Only one in 200 people examined by these organizations turn out of have been SEALs. Some of the phonies have threatened lawsuits, but none has ever followed through.
The number of phonies goes up whenever SEALs are in the news, either because of combat activity, or because of a movie or TV show about them. Many civilians accuse the authenticating organizations guilty of being vigilantes, as many people find nothing wrong in a little make believe. But SEALs, or any combat troops, operate in a very dangerous environment, and have to train hard to acquire the skills that civilians are so keen on pretending they have. The phonies are seen, by the troops, as dishonoring the effort and sacrifices of the real SEALs. Moreover, the phonies are often embarrassing specimens of humanity, who make the real SEALs look bad simply by association. So its not just a little harmless make-believe, its bad for the morale of people who risk their lives for all of us.