About “Former POW” Claims

| April 16, 2015

There are very few instances of Stolen Valor that bother me more than a fake claim to POW status. People making such claims are, in my opinion, among the absolute lowest of the low.

DoD goes to great lengths to account for its personnel. It also goes to great lengths to recover personnel taken captive – or to confirm their death and recover their remains. People sometimes die in those rescue, recovery, and confirmatory efforts.

And what some former POWs went through . . . well, it can only be described as hell on earth.

There is a new DoD Agency – the the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) – tasked with the POW/MIA accounting mission. It inherited the mission and assets of the former Defense POW/Missing Personnel Office, or DPMO, which is no more. (If you were familiar with the old DPMO website – well, bad news. The new agency’s website is rather different than its predecessor, and finding things there may take some re-learning.)

Unfortunately, DoD doesn’t appear to maintain and post official DoD POW lists from all of our nation’s wars. Don’t ask me why. It would seem to me that that data should be readily available in DoD’s archives for every war since at least Korea – if not from World War I or the Spanish-American War forward.

As you’ve guessed (or already knew), that means we have a problem. There are plenty of low-lifes out there “rockin’ the lie” when it comes to fake POW claims. We feature some of them every so often here at TAH.

Moreover, Federal law itself IMO contributes to the problem. Federal law allows the VA – not DoD – to determine whether or not an individual is an “official former POW” for the purposes of VA benefits.  We all know just how “oh-so-thoroughly and accurately” the VA verifies each and every claim they get.

Indeed, current Federal law does not technically even require that a person be held prisoner by our nation’s enemies for the VA to determine them to be an “official former POW” for VA benefits purposes. Here’s the text of 38 USC 101(32), where the term “former prisoner of war” for VA purposes is defined. I’ve added emphasis where I felt it was needed.

(32) The term “former prisoner of war” means a person who, while serving in the active military, naval or air service, was forcibly detained or interned in line of duty—

(A) by an enemy government or its agents, or a hostile force, during a period of war; or

(B) by a foreign government or its agents, or a hostile force, under circumstances which the Secretary finds to have been comparable to the circumstances under which persons have generally been forcibly detained or interned by enemy governments during periods of war.

The “Secretary” referenced above is the VA Secretary – not the SECDEF. And a liberal interpretation of the law could mean that a GI who got erroneously thrown into a nasty local jail run by one of our ALLIES during a period hostilities might qualify under that criteria. Last time I checked, Middle Eastern and Oriental jails are reputedly pretty damned harsh.

Sound like a huge loophole? You betcha. The VA can – and often does – declare people to be “former POWs” who were never held prisoner by our nation’s enemies.

The VA very obviously does not bother to consult DoD lists of persons held by the enemy to verify claims of former-POW status. As Jonn has documented here: in 2009 only approximately 570 individuals actually taken captive by our enemies during Vietnam and the Gulf War were still living; the VA at the time was granting benefits as “former POWs” of those two conflicts to over 1,200 people. That means that in 2009 well over half of the VA’s “offical former POWs” were never actually held prisoner by our nation’s enemies.

Or, in simpler terms: that means that using the commonly-understood definition of POW, over half of them weren’t really POWs at all as the term is commonly understood. They managed to get declared POWs due to another reason – one that the VA bought.

Because of the above, the fact that an individual has been granted a “former POW status” by the VA doesn’t really mean squat regarding the validity of a claim of being a POW as the term is commonly understood. Further, most if not all states accept a letter from the VA declaring an individual to be a “former POW” as “proof” that the individual is indeed a “former POW”. Convince the VA you qualify as a “official former POW” and you can get “Former POW” license plates for your car in most states with just a piece of paper from the VA. So those “former POW” license plates don’t necessarily prove squat, either.

Why do people      lie through their teeth       do stuff like this? Hey, car tags are damned expensive in some states. So is medical care – which former POWs receive from the VA with most or all co-payments waived (they’re in Priority Group 3).  There’s also  a list of presumptive conditions for former POWs that are automatically held to be “service connected” – many of which are also conditions routinely associated with normal aging.  When those conditions appear or worsen with age, poof!  Instant disability rating – and compensation.

You do the math.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any good, comprehensive, published DoD lists of POWs from World War II or Korea.  Figuring out if a “former POW” claim for vets of those wars is legit can be problematic.

However, for the war in Southeast Asia (AKA the “Vietnam War”) the situation is different. DPAA does have and post a list of former SEA POWs – as well as a list of those who are and are not formally accounted for. Specifically, it maintains four lists.

• The first list contains the names of those POWs who returned alive at the end of the Vietnam War. That list may be found here.

• The second list contains the names of those POWs who escaped enemy captivity in Southeast Asia. That list may be found here.

• The third list contains the names of those who have been formally accounted for. This list includes the names on the previous two lists, plus the names of those whose remains have been recovered and positively identified. That list may be found here.

• The fourth list contains the names of personnel who have not yet been formally accounted for. These are individuals’ whose remains have never been recovered. That list may be found here.

DPAA also maintains other lists sorted by home state at their website. But the four lists above – which are sorted alphabetically – are generally IMO the most useful.

Verifying Vietnam War POW claims is thus actually fairly easy.  All you need to do is check the first two lists above.  If someone isn’t on the first two lists above, according to DoD they were never held as a POW by enemy forces in Southeast Asia. I personally wouldn’t buy anyone’s claim of being a “former ‘Nam POW” if they’re not on one of those first two lists.

A future update – or perhaps a second article – will discuss US POWs taken captive in the Gulf War and later conflicts.  Short version:  there aren’t many.


Author’s Note: For ease of future reference, this article is linked to the Site Banner’s “Military Records” article.

Category: Historical, Military issues, Veterans Issues, Veterans' Affairs Department

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Thank you, Hondo for this excellent article.

Arlington Cemetery STILL (going on 2 years) has an individual recognized as a Vietnam POW and STILL will not correct the “error”. When recently contacted again about this “error”, the answer Arlington provided was : “The Surviving Spouse has to correct the error.”



SSGT.James M Ray was listed as the last POW not accounted for. However, if memory serves me right, his father asked that he be listed as KIA, to receive the insurance money Jimmy bought extra of for his mother and siblings. I’m sorry to say but his mom and siblings didn’t receive a cent. That’s out of the mouth of the mom (before she died) and the siblings Charles and Maureen because he abandoned the family long ago and only got involved AFTER JIMMY WAS A POW.They were so depressed about the laying of the wreath on Jimmy’s marker and no one from the Military contacted either one to B there. It was Woodward’s scam

I put $3,000 into a special account and adding to it all recycling and extra money I can. When my doctors tell me my time is near (got a few left) I will head to Arlington with my kids and granddaughter (who all wear Jimmys bracelet) to lay the wreath on his marker. The siblings are much closer to Arlington so I won’t have to pay much for train fare. We’re going to take pictures of the whole ceremony nut WILL NOT CALL THE PRESS AS WOODWARD DID.

This is between Jimmy and us so he see’s I have never forgotten and my kids will continue with my cause. When Jimmy does come home, they will bury all his files and bracelets. The one made of gold I’ll pass on to his family. I want to ask for donations from other vets but that just doesn’t feel right to us.

When we do this I’ll send video and pictures to John. Again thank you for your service to your country and I’m sorry the Military didn’t welcome you home until so much later. Reb

POW claims and ambiguity

Ok. For instance: There is a case that was decided in favor of the veteran involving this same exact scenario. Ok. The guy was a WW2 veteran. He was ordered to put his weapon on the deck and proceed down range to accept the surrender of a few Germans. Apparently the veterans CO assumed that sending someone unarmed would be better. Well these Germans didn’t surrender. They captured the aforementioned veteran. he escaped after being detained for three hours. He was a prisoner right?


OK this is an excellent article.

One thing though and I admit it, I skimmed the post and didn’t read every word at this point. (I’ll go back when I can, I’m on kid duty)

What can we do to CHANGE THIS?? I wrote my congresscritter to no response.

Is there some way we can put pressure to change this in congress and at the executive level or SOMETHING, to make rocking the lie less palatable and profitable? Can we bring this to the arena or PUBLIC ATTENTION so people start getting pissed off as they appear to be doing currently about Stolen Valor?
Well at least the general public is more aware and more pissy about it rather then oblivious.

Suggestions “AS TO” Politicos that would take this on?

Thanks and have a great weekend. 😀

Jonn Lilyea

I’ve written before about Senator Patty Murray’s interrogatory with former Secretary of the Veterans’ Affairs Department Eric Shinseki. The Senator asked him to scrub the VA’s records – Shinseki came back and told the Senator that they only found two phony POWs and one of them was deceased already. We all know how big a lie that was. Last year, the POW Accountability Act which would have forced the VA to actually account for POWs on their rolls, languished and died in the last Congressional session. Nobody wants to be the meanie who busts phonies.

Silentium Est Aureum

Stolen Valor Act is sadly in that realm. It makes politicians feel good, and gives some people the impression that they give a shit. Well, until it comes down to someone actually being charged.

Reminds me of Blazing Saddles. Harumph, indeed.


That was the bill I referenced and sent letters to my guys and gals in Congress and I got back….. *crickets*.
My wife sent a letter about some environmental B.S. and they ate that shit up.
Go figure.
I guess we’re expendable.


Thanks, Hondo. Could not agree more with you on this.


Lets be real…our elected officials have little to no interest in the issues of Stolen/co-opted or exaggerated Valor because there is no financial motivation in it for them. They don’t act or act slowly because there is nothing in it for them.

John Robert Mallernee

Beau coup years ago, when I went to the Vet Center in Salt Lake City, Utah, I met SEVERAL guys who claimed to have become a POW in Hanoi after falling off their ship while their guns were being fired.

I also met a few more guys claiming to have been POWs who overpowered their guards, escaped, successfully made their way through the jungle to friendly lines, and then guided flights of B-52 bombers to targets on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.

I personally knew a couple of genuine POWs, one from Viet Nam, and the other from the Second World War, and they had the physical scars to prove it.

(My wife was terrified by the physical appearance of the Viet Nam POW, a former Special Forces trooper whom I served with in Viet Nam.)

One guy I knew, a United States Air Force pilot who was a documented POW in Viet Nam, said there was some physical torture, but the worst were the years of boring monotony.

Dennis - not chevy

Thank you for this Hondo.

I had a relative who was in a camp in Germany in WWII; he wouldn’t talk about it, but his scars told more than my young (when I met him)ears could have handled.

I have an unending dislike when I meet a phony POW. One day, while out in a very public place, a man who said he was a former Marine saluted me and greeted me as his First Sergeant. He announced to everyone within listening distance that I had been his First Sergeant and about how I had escaped from the VC. Embarrassed, I announced to the same people that I was none of the above. He whispered to me that I was now safe from the VC and I didn’t have to hide anymore. Again, I informed him that I was not a Marine, I was not anybody’s First Sergeant, I graduated high school in 1975 so I was not in Viet Nam, and that he should get out of my eyes immediately.
Soon after the local police arrested him for what I don’t care.

Some time later I had lunch with a person who had just returned from Viet Nam where he was a member of a team investigating a crash site. I was honored to have even met someone doing this important work. Later, when telling friends about it, a wannabe informed me loudly that there was no such work and no such team. The urge to throat punch him was hard to resist.


My papa was a Amsterdam freedom fighters in that war. He hid Jewish families and kids. Girls were easy, boys weren’t. After the liberation the count of Jewish saved was 218, not including the ones who joined the Freedom Fighters. His best friend David lost his parents. My grandma raised the baby sister who the mom had time to hid under clothes. Fourteen years later in 1959 US and Israeli Massod got info that nazis in hiding wanted papa dead. He handed over his black book that contains the murdered and murderers. Papa never saw his family again. I asked him years later was it worth losing your family and going to America. Even finding one nazi made it worth while. Before they sent us to America they found 88 Nazis and 210 colaberators….R.I.P. 5+ MILLION

John Robert Mallernee

Today, Thursday 16 April 2015, was Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel.

When I was in Viet Nam, I took a thirty-day Special Leave (for volunteering to extend my tour of duty) and flew to Israel, where I was the ONLY Christian (I’m a Mormon) on all-Jewish tours, one of which featured a visit to Yad Vashem.

Yad Vashem not only remembers the Holocaust victims, but also honors the “Righteous Among Nations”, those Gentiles who risked their lives to help save Jews from the Nazis.


John, In 1978-79 I escorted my uncles body home to Amsterdam after dying in my moms house after a 3 month reunion after 30 years. My mom at the funeral said “if you didn’t bring him to America, my brother would still be alive. Thanks ungrateful troll. I split to a hotel and called papa in America. He could not go back to Holland because of the stuff he did with the Israeli Massod
Two day later papa calls and gives me these orders to leave the hotel. I was to meet two men who would call me by my nickname. Listen to them. They drove me to a coffee shop and there’s my papa smoking and drinking coffee if people I didn’t know. They drove us to Arnhem. Some kind of ceremony. I’m next to pa and he about blew out me ear drum screaming David. Then there’s a mob screaming DA GEK! Members of the Amsterdam Freedom Fighters were being honored by now Rabbi David as Righteous Gentiles ny nation Holland. I sat bewildered by the stories that I heard my whole life. These were the people who saved the people Hitler wanted dead. My pa was back on a plane to America. We never told a sole. I have pictures in my safety deposit box and they will be shared in my book. Seeing a bunch of old guys crying, kisses on each cheek was incredible and I was honored they included me. R.I.P 5+ MILLION

John Robert Mallernee

Before going to Viet Nam, I served in a Signal Corps unit in Germany, and as a Mormon, was an Assistant Scoutmaster for our Boy Scout troop.

Our Summer Camp was “Camp Edelweiss” at Bad Tolz, and afterwards, we went to Munich.

We were scheduled to visit Dachau and Salzburg, Austria, but when our Scoutmaster, an Air Force NCO, got pneumonia, our trip had to be cut short.

Mario Ortega

“…I personally knew a couple of genuine POWs, one from Viet Nam, and the other from the Second World War, and they had the physical scars to prove it…”

When my dad’s side of the family would get together every five years or so, I would stay up into the early mornings listening to my dad and uncles exploits during WWII. One of my dad’s brothers was KIA two months after landing at Normandy while another was captured on the Bataan Peninsula and was a survivor of the infamous Bataan Death March and Hell Ships. The “scars” were not only visible but also invisible. My dad (lower right) is the only surviving brother.




What a good looking bunch of American soldiers! Talk about strong family resemblances!

I wish your Dad many more years of good health and many more stories of WWII to come.

Nice post!

Silentium Est Aureum

Take every phony, stick em in a cage, poke em with sticks, then fuck em all and feed them fish heads.

No sympathy whatsoever.


How appropriate. Today’s Veteran of the day from the VA is a former POW.

Just an Old Dog

GWOT POW posers should be very easy to verify. Other than the few captured from the 501 Mt Bn in 2003 and the questionable capture of Bergdahl there have been none.
Every single US servicemember that have fallen into enemy hands has been tortured and killed within hours.

John Robert Mallernee


“the few captured from the 501 Mt Bn in 2003”


I never heard about that.

Was it ever reported in the news?

The unit number, “501” – – – ,

Was it part of the 101st Airborne Division?

In the old Republic of Viet Nam, I served in the 501st Signal Battalion (Airmobile) of the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile), which also had two (02) battalions of the 501st Airborne Infantry Regiment.

At that time, there was no 501st Maintenance Battalion in the 101st Airborne Division.

When I was in the old Republic of Viet Nam, the 101st Airborne Division’s maintenance unit was the 801st Maintenance Battalion.

The unit that I was in, the 501st Signal Battalion (Airmobile) no longer exists.


Wasn’t she the hero who said when she was rescued, I am a soldier too! When I read the book, what she went through, and the doctor who gave her location and risking his life to save her. God bless him….and both our soldiers..

Stick Stickly

Except, unfortunately, the cases of Byron Fouty and most probably Alex Jimenez, who were both captured in May 2007 in Iraq. “The official AFMES autopsy reports of Byron W. Fouty, issued September 2008, suggest that Fouty had been tortured over a period of four months, from May to September 2007, before being killed.”

This was based on a severely broken nose that had “well-healed” prior to death, among other more serious injuries.


Thank you Hondo…bookmarked this page for future reference.

3/17 Air Cav

About a year ago I ran into a phony POW at my local grocery store his story was totally unbelievable, fuck it it I’m too mentally tired to tell it now!


2/17 Air Cav

Okay, I’ll kick up the dust. I do not understand the ‘honor’ associated with being a POW.


You must be old school – too old to understand the current school of thought on the nobility of victimhood. It goes like this – ‘people who die fighting are mean and deserve what they get; while people who surrender are victims of bullies, and should be held up as an example to our children, who will learn that being a victim is so much nicer than being personally responsible. And besides, you didn’t build that, and global warming will kill us all.’ Or something like that.

2/17 Air Cav

Thanks. That helps.


Irving Rice, the phony POW who never wanted to talk about it, yet left a trail of bullshit all over the internet. He’s the one that was held for nine hours, and while he was being held, he received a card with a plastic smiley face from a 5th grade class in the USA. I wonder if Irving Rice is still telling his lies.


“The nobility of victimhood”

Truly- one of the core diseases eating away at the soul of our society.

Thanks for summing it up so concisely.

That is all…


That’s just one of many concepts posers will never understand. They know little to nothing of honor, but are willing to take whatever benefits attach to their false claims.

Purely anecdotal, of course, but the (former) POW’s with whom I have spoken expressed nothing remotely sounding like it was an honor to have been one. Likewise those who survived things like Bataan.


It’s not about ‘honor’ as those that would make any false claim, especially of this magnitude, by definition have no honor. It’s about keeping the little snowflake special, center of attention, drawing sympathy, etc. Narcissistic BS by those who never became an adult mentally.

Related: I sent in an FOIA on my deceased FIL. Wife pulls out an old framed picture of her dad to inspire her son (my step-son) who is going into the Navy. Looks “sharp” (according to her) in his Alphas (jacket open, long hair, full beard) rocking a Silver Star, Bronze Star, PH, etc. (I stopped looking at that point.) She says he told stories of his participation in the WWII Pacific Island campaign, how he was a POW, etc., etc., ad nausea. She wasn’t happy when I told her it wouldn’t hang on the wall of any house I own because it’s a Halloween costume, not HIS uniform. Wearing Staff Sergeant rocker and several sleeve hash’s. His VA-provided headstone shows him as an STM3. Waiting until I get the official packet before letting her know the details (if she’s even interested). But the step-son will learn real quick that even a WWII era STM3 is NOT the equivalent of a SSgt.

Veritas Omnia Vincit

I don’t understand your question, are you suggesting that someone who is held prisoner and tortured yet refuses to divulge anything to their torturers is without honor due to their position as a POW?

John McCain enduring years of abuse to the point his arms have never worked properly since his days as a POW wasn’t honorable for maintaining the spirits of those imprisoned with him?

I think I am misunderstanding what you asking.

Men and women who endure what is often considered unendurable have an honor, and a dignity to them from that experience that liars never will.

My neighbor’s dad was B-17 pilot who spent time as a POW, he was a really good man and absolutely honorable for enduring his time as a captive without collaborating with his enemies to make his prison life more comfortable.

I think that is what these shitbags who make claims of being a POW are seeking, in addition to sympathy for being victimized they are professing to possess the same level of resolve and fortitude as those who actually endured that mistreatment.

Mandela spent many years as a prisoner for speaking his principles loudly and refusing to submit to something that was wrong, for me he is an honorable man who possesses the dignity of righteousness for suffering for his beliefs. I’m not a religious man but I respect those Christians in the bible who knew they would suffer for their beliefs and be crucified yet refused to yield….there is an honor in being a captive under certain circumstances that extends beyond merely being a victim.

AC forget everything I said if I misunderstood the question, it’s been a long stupid week dealing with great clients who have no clue as to how annoying their requests have been this week in terms of time and energy to resolve…my brain might well be fried beyond comprehension today.


I believe the comment was that being a POW was not an act of honor/valor, it is simply what happened. Honorable conduct WHILE a POW is certainly commendable, but the simple act of being captured is not, in itself, something to boast about. But as I stated in my earlier post, I don’t believe they make these claims to be seen as more honorable, it is to be more unique/special than a run-of-the-mill SealRangerNameYourColorBeretBlackOps video playing poser. And if it comes with extra bennies and is harder to disprove, the more-better it is.

2/17 Air Cav

VOV. I knew I ran a risk of misunderstanding so I had better be clearer. When an aircraft goes down and survivors are captured, or a pilot ejects from a stricken plane, or a ship is ordered to be abandoned, or men are ordered to surrender rather than face annihilation because their fighting capability is all but expended, they become POWs, if they are lucky. If unlucky, they are executed w/o fanfare. There is no honor in any of that, as I see it, but that is not to say that those taken POW cannot act honorably, as the overwhelming majority of US POWs have in all wars and conflicts, some of whom endured the unendurable. But that is not what I was referring to. What I meant to convey is that the posers and pretenders–in merely taking for themselves POW status–mistakenly believe that that’s all there is to it, that they are automatically to be honored for claiming (falsely) that they were POWs. And it is this that OldCorpsTanker72 well explained, that in our society, victimhood entitles the victim to homage.

Veritas Omnia Vincit

I kind of thought so which is why I closed with forget everything I said if I misunderstood which without hearing your words is easy to do….

Words on a screen spoken without emotion are easily mischaracterized or misunderstood.


It’s not so much a matter of “honor” as it is conditions. I recently certified the cause of death as a WWII vet as POW-related. The man was 91 years old and died of cardiac-related issues — like many 91-year-old men do. Nonetheless, the death is certified as POW-related by law. Why? Because the conditions under which POWs are kept cause those kind of conditions, and it’s essentially impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff when investigating these deaths. So, there’s no real middle ground. You can’t ask Al Quaeda, or the Nazis from WWII to provide detailed records of how they treated each POW. So you have to assume that these deaths are POW-related unless proven otherwise, or you assume they are not unless proven to be so. If you do the latter, then thousands of vets who suffered terribly will not get benefits. If you do the former, then thousands of vets who did not suffer terribly will get benefits. The US government has decided to err on the latter side. The pathophysiology of how POW conditions lead to significant illness later in life is fairly straightforward. The simplest, of course, is starvation. There are limited studies on the long-term effects of severe starvation, but many people suffer cardiac-related issues later in life because of it. Similarly, people who are starved tend to get disease, and the long-term effects of various diseases, from typhus (aka gaol fever) to pneumonia to untreated malaria, can lead to early death. And on and on. Many people suffer injury or illness when they are younger and manage to work around their deficits until they get old, at which time they decompensate. The fact that the challenges the injuries case overcome them later in life does not change the fact that the challenges are due to the events that occurred at a younger age. My father, for instance, was shot by a Japanese rifleman. He was shot *right between the eyes,* and the only reason that he survived was that he was firing that the guy firing at him. The bullet travelled… Read more »

POW claims and ambiguity

Sorry I posted a portion of a Court of Veterans appeals above. I was thinking about this topic lately. I agree buddy. This is why the government itself fought so hard against congressmen who wanted a POW medal. Anyone I have met with a POW medal will not under any circumstances tell a stranger they don’t know in a grocery store they have one. Plus the ones I know who do don’t wear the medal. They don’t even wear the ribbon. Campaign Medal yup. Good Conduct yup. POW medal… No.