The American Legion — failure to investigate complaint of misconduct
The American Legion and Its Response to Member Misconduct
By Paul McInerny
From the June 4, 2013 American Legion:
"On June 3, President Barack Obama signed into law The American Legion-backed Stolen Valor Act of 2013, which now makes it a "federal crime for an individual to fraudulently hold oneself out to be a recipient of any of several specified military decorations or medals with the intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit."
Past Legion Commander James E. Koutz praised the overwhelming, bipartisan vote.
"The American Legion is impressed with Congress today, " he said. "Those who deliberately lie about military service, wear medals they did not earn or make claims of combat heroism they did not achieve are more than just liars. They are perpetrators of the worst kind of fraud. Their lies are an insult to all who have truly stood in harm's way and earned their decorations. We raised this issue at our national convention, and the House acted."
The American Legion, a prestigious veterans organization, was an ardent supporter of the Stolen Valor Act of 2013 and Commander Koutz said those who lie about their military service are "perpetrators of the worst kind of fraud."
Certainly, the American Legion would not tolerate such an individual in their organization. They would conduct an in-house investigation to determine whether of not allegations of misconduct had any merit and take appropriate action. Or would they?
In July 2017, a member of the American Legion community sent a letter to an American Legion Post Commander in New York regarding one of its members who had Honorably Discharged from the Navy at the rank of Commander. The Navy veteran, however, had been photographed in a Navy uniform with the rank of Captain with Aviator Wings, the Navy Cross, the Silver Star, Purple Heart and numerous other medals. The Navy veteran had written about his heroic exploits as a pilot, how his aircraft had been struck by a surface-to-air missile over the skies of Hanoi and how he, wounded and bleeding profusely, nursed his crippled aircraft back to the carrier, where he crash landed. The only problem, according to research with the National Personnel Records Center and the Navy Awards Section, there are no records of any kind to indicate the veteran earned any of the mentioned medals. Not one.
Now, the wearing of rank and medals not earned may not meet the elements necessary to make it a violation (crime) of the Stolen Valor Act, but surely the American Legion would look into the matter to determine whether or not the Navy veteran, a member of its organization, was wearing medals he did not earn or make claims of combat heroism he did not achieve. After all, he would be more than just a liar. He would be one of the "perpetrators of the worst kind of fraud."
What was the local Commanders response to the veteran who made the allegation(s) of misconduct? Nothing. No response or communication of any type.
The veteran who initially wrote to the local American Legion Post attempted additional contact with the local Commander and received absolutely no response. Frustrated, the veteran decided to forward his allegations to the American Legion Headquarters. Convinced they would look into the matter of the Navy veteran and perhaps even research why there was no response at the local level.
The veteran compiled a packet of the information he had gathered through research and included a photograph of the Navy veteran in the Captain's uniform. The information was sent via mail to the American Legion Headquarters and addressed to the Legion Commander.
A month passed by and the veteran received no confirmation from anyone at the American Legion Headquarters. A phone call to headquarters indicated the packet had quite possibly been lost, as they receive a great deal of correspondence. Additional phone calls and voice mails proved frustrating and non-productive, until approximately a month and a half had passed, when the veteran finally spoke with someone at American Legion Headquarters who appeared genuinely interested in the allegations. He asked that the contents be emailed directly to him and he acknowledged their receipt. He assured the veteran he would send the packet "up the leadership chain, " and would let him know how things developed, as he was able.
Approximately two and a half months later, the veteran who made the allegation(s) received no updates of any kind. No emails, no phone calls, no letters. It is unknown if the American Legion Leadership even received the packet of information and allegations, or, if they did, what course of action they took ~ if any.
On December 4, 2017, Mr. Jeff Chapman, Assistant Director of Membership called to discuss the issue. The official stance of the National Headquarters is to not become involved in allegations of misconduct against one of its members. The responsibility belonged to the local post. Would the National Headquarters become involved if the local post failed to investigate the allegations? The answer from Mr. Chapman was an emphatic, "no."
Mr. Chapman said he would, however, contact the local post regarding our conversation.
There are two concerns to be addressed.
The first concern is the lack of response from the he local American Legion post commander who was notified of the allegations of misconduct. There was and is sufficient, tangible documentation (official records, photographs, etc.) to warrant a thorough investigation at the local level. At the very least, the local American Legion should have afforded the veteran the courtesy of a response.
The second concern is the possibility the local American Legion post has turned a blind eye to the allegation(s). Perhaps they decided not to conduct their own, independent investigation into the misconduct of the Navy veteran. It is unknown what course of action was taken, because of the lack of communication.
What is known, the National Headquarters of the American Legion does indeed turn a blind eye. The National Headquarters would not even entertain the notion of an investigation into the allegation. As Mr. Chapman indicated, if the National Headquarters had to investigate every allegation of Stolen Valor against one of its members, they would be too busy to conduct any business for the benefit of the veterans the organization serves. If the local post declines to investigate, national headquarters is fine with the decision.
This is the same American Legion, which raised the issue of Stolen Valor at one of their national conventions. Apparently, the issue was important enough as a topic at a national convention, but doesn't rate consideration at the local level and the National Headquarters doesn't become involved.
Apathy. Clearly, the "not-my-job" attitude. And we wonder why there is a proliferation of individuals parading around in uniforms with medals they didn't earn. We wonder why the topic of Stolen Valor even had to be an issue at a National Convention of the American Legion.
This is your American Legion.