LAWTON, OK (KSWO) -The State of Oklahoma is taking a stronger stand against people who impersonate members of the armed forces, or veterans. The punishment for that crime is now set to increase tenfold.
Governor Mary Fallin signed an amendment to the state's Stolen Valor Law in April. It pertains to individuals who misrepresent themselves as a member of the armed forces by wearing any decoration or medal authorized by congress, like a purple heart or bronze star. The fine for the crime has increased from $100 to $1,000.
Veterans say it is a personal issue to everyone who has served on active duty. They say for someone to pretend to have earned awards and medals is very offensive when people have fought and died for this county.
"My belly churns up and I go to knots and sometimes I have a hard time talking about it," said William Phillips, the director of the Veterans Services Center in Lawton.
Phillips spent 21 years and 18 days in the U.S. Army, serving in both Korea and Vietnam, and even earning a Bronze Star. He says he caught a man pretending to be a Purple Heart recipient in Lawton.
"I asked him where he got his Purple Heart and he hesitated, he couldn't give me a direct answer and I just put my hand up like that and pulled it off and I said 'You better get out of my sight,'" Phillips said.
Phillips says many of his fellow veterans are content to not start a fight, but they have turned in four people at the center for breaking the law and pretending to be veterans.
"I love what they have done with the new law. I still think it hasn't gone far enough. As a minimum, they should probably be required on top of the fine to do some civic duty. Put some hours in, bring them into a place like this and make them work for a week," Phillips said.
Phillips says a man who did break the law was assigned to complete 250 hours of community service by working at the Veterans Services Center. He says he has no doubt that if someone is not who they say they are, the military or someone in the public will figure out eventually.
"The old saying, 'sit on a bar stool in a VFW a couple of evenings. They'll know whether you did something or if you're a phony,'" Phillips said.
Since the law was originally created in 2011, misrepresenting yourself as a Medal of Honor recipient and/or falsifying documents of proof of service is a felony in Oklahoma. Those crimes carry a fine up to $5,000 and no more than 1 year in the county jail.
A similar federal law called the "Stolen Valor Act" was signed into law in 2006 by President George W. Bush, but was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2012, saying the First Amendment's right to freedom of speech also protects the right to lie.