Military archivist says 2009 could be worst for military fraud

By Gus Bode

An archivist with the P.O.W. Network said 2009 could finish as the worst year for military fraud cases because of a failing economy that has kept millions of people out of work.

Mary Schantag, a researcher and archivist with the P.O.W. Network who specializes in potential military fraud cases similar to the recent accusations against a university administration, said her department has dealt with more than 200 military phony cases through February, and expects the year to continue on as the most prolific year in terms of military phonies.

‘It’s an epidemic,’ Schantag said. ‘These people are out of work and are desperate. There is a real benefit if they can pull it off, and they are getting better and better at it.’


James Scales, the university’s director of Career Services, said Friday he would use his remaining vacation days before retiring March 1.

His announcement came after the Daily Egyptian reported Scales’ military records did not match stories he had told the paper about service in Vietnam and other countries, and the receipt of various military awards, including three Purple Hearts.

Schantag said people who claim military service or awards could receive a variety of benefits including tax credits, disability pay, discounted medicine and cheap travel expenses among other perks.

She also said phonies could receive preferential treatment in professional job searches.

‘Any time a phony or fraud exaggerates a position, it leaves a legitimate veteran who is not doing anything wrong in the dark,’ Schantag said.

But Doug Sterner, who originally notified the Daily Egyptian and other media outlets of the discrepancies between Scales’ records and his story, is pushing for legislation that would create a searchable government database to record all recipients of military awards. Sterner, a Vietnam veteran who lives in Colorado, said it would significantly reduce the number of phonies and make it harder to trick the public.

Sterner operates a Web site called Home of Heroes, a site dedicated to preserving the legacy of military heroes by unofficially listing recipients of various military awards.


Sterner said targeting potential phonies is not his primary objective. Instead, Sterner said he wants to preserve the legacy of real military heroes.

‘ ‘This would immediately expose the phonies,’ Sterner said. ‘If you want to know who won a Pulitzer Prize or an Academy Award, you can just go online. But it’s ironic that one of the things we regard the highest – military heroes – has no such database.’

An official database, Sterner said, would give journalists trying to confirm military awards a quick and easy outlet and would provide valuable family history.

Schantag said such a database would be useful, specifically for media and historians.

‘It would make it much easier for public sources and easier to catch them,’ she said. ‘Maybe we wouldn’t have baseball players or football players that beat their wives as heroes. We would have real heroes that we could all look up to.’

A list of awards and services in a national database could pose a threat for those in similar situations as Scales, and could become an issue of privacy.

Harry Surden, an associate professor of law at the University of Colorado Law School, said a national database could have privacy implications.

‘There is a difference in terms of privacy between a piece of paper sitting in a government cabinet somewhere and that same information made publicly searchable on the Internet,’ he said. ‘Whenever we make data electronically searchable, we risk unintentional privacy consequences by making that data available and easily accessible.’

Surden said such ideas would have to be considered by Congress when discussing Sterner’s database.

Sterner said he estimated the project would cost between $6 and $8 million, and would employ about 100 people for three years.

Sterner said the bill, which has 34 co-sponsors, would be a ‘slam dunk’ if it gets a hearing. He said the bill died after the 110th Congress adjourned, but is confident this Congress will pass it.

‘It’s a no-brainer,’ Sterner said.