Stolen Valor

There are those who are using any means, for their own profit. Meet some of those who gladly steal the glory and valor from those, living or dead, who have earned it in wars!

By: Roger Bjoroy-Karlsen
Edited by: Lauran Timlin

It feels a little overwhelming when a war veteran at the end of her twenties, with both the Purple Heart and Bronze Star medals from two tours in Iraq and one tour in Afghanistan, has been injured by driving over an IED. Half of the soldiers died, while she managed to pull a fellow soldier out of the burning wreckage. When questioned by skeptical veterans who are real, she adds to her story that her twin brother was killed in Iraq and that her father is a General, And to top it all off, she has stage four lung cancer after inhaling the toxic smoke from the incident in Iraq but has so far survived over a year longer than expected.

But the truth is that Sara Cavanaugh (32) from Rhode Island had never been in uniform in the military at all!

Sara Cavanaugh makes a high ride pretending she was an injured war hero

In 2022, she pleaded guilty and was convicted of identity theft. She had been a social worker at a veterans’ hospital, and stole the identity of a US Marines veteran with cancer. She then went on to create stories of her time at war and her heroics as well as a dreadful illness as a result of her time in the military,

She was sentenced under what is known as the “Stolen Valor Act”, approved as a law by President George W. Bush in 2006. The sentence was nearly six years in prison, and she was ordered to pay restitution in excess of $284,000, of which approximately $250,000 was received as personal donations and benefits for injured veterans in the US healthcare system.

It is not a criminal offense to claim to be a war veteran until one earns money, property or receives other tangible benefits from it.

The deceitful lady prepared herself well for the role she wanted to play,It is not difficult to make up stories from the modern wars based on facts easily garnered from the press coverage, as well. Any of the soldiers who served in Iraq and Afghanistan jumped straight to the keyboard and blogged after being out on a mission, or a patrol, often recounting events and surroundings in detail so that it’s easy for outsiders to pick up and make it their own.

And Sara Cavanaugh was able to have people believe her fabricated story for five years! 

Cavanaugh during this time led a branch of the VFW (Veterans from Foreign Wars) and often gave speeches to the public, dressed in full US Marines uniform, with a number of medals on her chest. But eventually, some true veterans became suspicious of what she told and what she did. She also saluted with slightly spreading fingers to the hat, which is a “no-go”.

And when they  finally asked her for proof of the service and events, she struggled. Nor was she found in the databases that registered medal recipients at this level.

Stolen Valor is widespread in the US. There are many weird people who come up with the most amazing stories where you meet them, often in uniform, with all the identification tags on completely wrong, and often wearing colorful sneakers. Some appear with a selection of ribbons and medals worn together, often far surpassing what is possible to achieve.

Combining ribbon stripes and medals at the same time is completely wrong.

Combining ribbon stripes and medals at the same time is completely wrong and often shows that this person is an impostor. When you then start asking them about basic things from the service, their story usually falls apart. As an example, every soldier who is or has been in the US Marines knows the birthday of this unit (which by the way is November 10th, when the Marines are required to share a cake so every one of them celebrates this day), So when a person with a suspicious Marines uniform doesn’t know that when asked, they are definitely an impostor.

Why do some people do this? Yes, human diversity has no limit. Some also try to take advantage of the benefits veterans have. And when you say you are a veteran, most people take it for granted and treat them with the respect and recognition they deserve.

Sometimes it’s obvious who is the fraud

Many outcasts dress in uniforms and beg on the streets. Unfortunately, some are real veterans, whom society has not been able to support appropriately.

There is also a lot of tragedy in this. for some of these imposters it is a last resort to get money to put food on the table. Curiously this occurrence tends to pick up after major events where the military is involved, such as the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, and when Osama Bin Laden was located and killed 12 years ago.

Why is there a reaction to it? The real war veterans are not thrilled. Many of them have fellow soldiers and close friends who have fallen in battle and many have been left with a heavy load from their service while deployed abroad, and they see this as dishonoring the uniform and those who have worn it validly.

If you want to take a closer look at these, and the ones that expose them, they can be found in many variations on Youtube. One can find them by searching “Stolen Valor”

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