Stolen bravery charge rocks North Kingstown VFW Post 152 prompting resignation and inquiries | News

NORTH KINGSTOWN, RI – The fabricated story of military service, illness and other claims by a former North Kingstown VFW Post 152 commanding officer ranks among the growing number of “stolen value” allegations in the country, said national subject matter experts.

“We see an awful lot of stolen bravery cases of all shapes and sizes,” Jason J. Metrick, US Assistant Inspector General for Investigations with the National Archives and Records Administration, told The Independent.

Two years ago, National Archives investigators took steps to make their research resources more accessible to federal and local law enforcement to deal with what they suspect was an increase in cases of bravery flight to obtain benefits or loans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Glenna Whitley, co-author of the 1998 book ‘Stolen Valor’, told The Independent she agreed cases are on the rise as social media tricks people into engaging in more of this type of fraud.

The trend was felt locally last week when the commanding officer of VFW Post 152 in North Kingstown resigned over charges of robbed bravery.

After a records check by veterans advocates, it was found that Sarah Cavanaugh, who had served as commanding officer since October 2020, had never been a member of the US Marine Corps and did not have a Purple Heart medal as she claimed. .

In fact, she had no military record and federal investigators are now looking into her allegations. She faces possible penalties, including fines and jail time, under the federal Stolen Valor Act of 2013.

She could not be reached by phone or e-mail despite numerous attempts.

What is Stolen Valor?

Stolen bravery involves falsely claiming military service, a certain rank that was not earned, wartime or service duties that never occurred, claims of military decorations never actually awarded and other embellishments.

Either the impostors make claims, or those who have done their military service make their resumes more distinguished than the facts support. It goes beyond appearances, but is often used to attack individuals and organizations who donate money to military-related causes and to claim benefits that those who commit the fraud do not get. the right to receive.

Federal and state laws often relate to people who fraudulently claim to have received a gallantry award specified in the law, with the intent of obtaining money, property, or some other tangible benefit by convincing another person that they received the award.

Cavanaugh has told numerous nonprofits that she is a veteran, has multiple medals, and even sought financial assistance for a suspected late-stage cancer diagnosis.

Metrick and Whitley said these types of stolen bravery claims often show up in people who are more sophisticated in their approach to the issue and who have motives beyond a simple desire to assume an identity that confers importance. because the public often holds military service in high esteem.

“There’s a lot of people out there pretending to be something they’re not,” Whitley said. “There’s the image of the fighter pilot in the cockpit and the person says, ‘It’s me, it’s me.’ But that’s not really the case.

To help build that image, they buy old documents and change them and they go to flea markets and get medals, she says. Suitors will also go online or to costume stores or Army-Navy stores to get uniforms.

If the simulation is just happening in their house or going out during Halloween, the fantasy doesn’t really hurt, experts said. It’s when those who venture into the real world that they struggle to actually live out their new identity, they added.

Along the lines of military impersonations, this can lead to focused efforts to convince people that these military exploits are real, as Cavanaugh did while giving speeches about service she never performed. or battles she was never engaged in, they said.

Psychological reasons

Dr Anthony Gallo, a psychiatrist in North Kingstown, said people often make up identities to get attention.

“The army is an exalted status. Who wouldn’t want to be a hero? he said, adding that there are also mental illnesses that can lead to these impersonations.

Elishewah Rosa Weisz in her 2016 doctoral study, “Stolen Valor: The People Who Commit Military Usurpation,” found several psychological explanations for military impersonation.

“The admiration and respect that comes with high ranks and the excitement of combat positions is a huge influence. Being admired and respected by people who listen to what you have to say, like war stories, can be addictive. Besides admiration and respect, there is the idea of ​​uniqueness,” she wrote.

People feel the need to be special and different from each other and since relatively few people in American society enlist in the military let alone serve in combat positions, serving in the military makes a person special and unique. Impersonation can be a way for a copycat to feel unique without having to go through the dangers and tribulations of military service, Weisz argued.

There are also various psychiatric disorders, she said, some of which contain symptoms of grandiose thinking – thinking one is a hero for example – manipulation and lying.

“All of these manifestations can be visible and possibly necessary for one person to impersonate another, in some cases for decades. Psychiatric disorders can also benefit a person if the disorder is a recognized disorder by the Department of Ancients Combatants (VA), which means there is a financial and therapeutic benefit to be gained,” she said.

line crossed

Whitley and Metrick said a line is crossed when the fantasy extends to holding real-life positions in the community to warp the military and further when people use this fraudulent identity to get money and benefits. benefits they don’t deserve.

The danger of this misrepresentation is often for small charities and other organizations that don’t verify the person’s credentials, said Rob Couture, director of communications and public affairs for the national office of Veterans of Foreign Wars. in Washington, DC. .

While state and federal offices can ask for proof of money requests, thousands of nonprofits cannot.

This is the point that seems to have ensnared Cavanaugh. Several weeks ago, she sent an urgent request to the Providence-based HunterSeven Foundation. She claimed to be battling stage IV lung cancer. As the donations started rolling in, so did some advice that Cavanaugh was claiming to be a veteran with service honors.

An investigation has been opened and the fraudulent military service claims have been verified by the foundation in conjunction with federal officials, according to the HunterSeven Foundation, a veteran-founded nonprofit that specializes in medical research and education. specifically on post-9/11 veterans.

No money received ever went to Cavanaugh, whose alleged deception was discovered before any disbursement.

Role of social networks

Whitley said social media has contributed to the proliferation of people deciding to portray fake military credentials, especially for young people today who easily slip into online worlds with made-up identities different from their own.

She said it’s easy in the fast-paced environment of social media to see appealing identities and model them for yourself. Before social media, it was harder to easily access this kind of engaging information, she said.

Couture said he knows a general who had to stop several cases of his identity being stolen and offered as real.

However, actual statistics on the number of claims of false military identities offered or used in violation of federal law could not be obtained. Various federal offices have declared that they do not keep them.

Nonetheless, stolen bravery remains a hot topic for military organizations and their advocates across the county, such as volvalor.comwhich offers resources on understanding the problem and purchasing the book Whitley co-authored with BG Burkett, a US Army veteran.

“Every time a misrepresentation is uncovered that tarnishes the military, a little bit of that faith and trust goes away,” Couture said.

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