By Mike Mount
A comprehensive Pentagon database containing the names of combat valor award recipients since September 11, 2001, will be put on the Pentagon website to raise awareness of those who received the awards, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told a Congressional Panel Wednesday.
The database is an effort to allow the public to officially see if a person received a specific award for valor in combat, in an effort debunk individuals who claim they received an award when they did not. The Supreme Court recently struck down a federal law making it a crime to falsely claim military medals earned.
"You're all aware that free speech allows someone to lie about awards," Panetta told a House panel at a joint hearing of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Veterans Affairs Committee on Wednesday.
"Free speech is one thing but dishonoring those on the battle field is something else," he said.
In the Senate, Virginia Senator Jim Webb (D) said he has the backing of a senate majority for new legislation that would criminalize efforts to profit by making false claims about military service.
"Profiting from the misrepresentation of military service or awards undermines the value of service and is offensive to all who have stepped forward to serve our country in uniform," Webb said in a statement. "By incorporating the guidance of the Supreme Court ruling, this legislation will bring accountability to such reprehensible actions within the scope of the protections offered to all Americans under the First Amendment.”
The Pentagon website will contain the names of recipients of the Medal of Honor through the Silver Star from September 11, 2001 on, according to Panetta.
A list of valor medal recipients prior to September 11 will eventually make it to the website, but because of the number of records, it will take a while, according to Pentagon officials.
A note on the site says it is still "under development" and at the moment only contains listings for Medal of Honor recipients.