Veteran caught lying about Purple Heart

8:51 PM, Apr 14, 2013   |    comments
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WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- WUSA9 recently reported on a woman who wanted a tattered flag replaced outside her apartment building. She told our reporter, Surae Chinn, she was an Iraq War veteran and purple heart recipient.

But the problem is the Pentagon disputes those claims.

It was a patriotic story, a woman who claimed she was a purple heart recipient who left Iraq after a traumatic brain injury. 

When we first met, she said her name was Michelle Tesla and said she changed her name from Chelle Anderson, because of a domestic issue. The Pentagon confirms her real name is Chelle Lynn Anderson.

WUSA9 talked by phone with George Wright, the Media Relations, Deputy Director at the Army Public Affairs.

Surae: Is she an Iraq war veteran?
Wright: I see nothing in her record to indicate that.
Surae: Is she a purple heart recipient?
Wright: There is nothing in her record to indicate that.
Surae: Has she served in the army for nearly 10 years.
Wright: She served from June 2000 to April 2002.
Surae: A year and 10 months?
Wright: That's correct.

We were first alerted to the woman's information by Army Sgt. Jonn Lilyea. He created a blog called 'thisainthell.' The site targets people who lie about their service.

Lilyea said, "I guess some people feel they have a hole in their records and they have to fill it out with outlandish stories."

Lilyea got a hold of her DD2-14 her military dates of service, and her history assignment. At our request, the Pentagon also checked into these documents and say they look to be authentic.

According to these records, Anderson did not deploy to Iraq. However she did serve in the army and was assigned to Germany, but never received a purple heart.

Lilyea said, "I have a friend, Tim Martin, who earned a purple heart by dying and he's buried in Arlington. It upset me greatly how someone can pin it on and act like they earned it. They have no shame we bring shame to the equation."

When we started digging deeper, we learned that faking someone's military history has become an epidemic. Lilyea's Blogs and others reveal countless people who haven't even served but call themselves heroes.

"It's been popular to find phonies."

Chelle Anderson did return Surae Chinn's call. Anderson says she has no military records to dispute what the Pentagon says. She also says she is not ready to make a statement on the record. Federal law does not see 'stealing valor' as a crime.

But some lawmakers are introducing bills similar to the Stolen Valor Act that was overturned by the Supreme Court, to make people accountable.

Surae Chinn: "In simple terms, My photographer and I were duped. We apologize for that. Our credibility takes a hit. I'm disappointed, mainly at myself for not checking. Now, I know you ask for someone's military papers, there 'DD2-14.'

It's a lesson learned. But we are grateful, because of our original story, a tattered flag was replaced. 

Whether she was military didn't give it any less importance of replacing the torn flag.

And we are always thankful to our viewers who keep us accountable. We always strive to be accurate and when we're wrong we want to make it right, to maintain transparency.

Surae Chinn, WUSA

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