Thomas James Barnhart insisted he'd received a Purple Heart as he entered a guilty plea to violating the Stolen Valor Act. According to a report in The Roanoke [Virginia] Times, the 58-year-old Barnhart insisted in U.S. District Court in Roanoke, “I was given a Purple Heart with no paperwork in Vietnam, so it was as if I had made up the award myself."
According to Assistant U.S. Attorney Jake Jacobsen, Barnhart, who lives in the Norfolk area, didn't stop with one Purple Heart. In paperwork filed when he transferred from the Navy to the Coast Guard, then in applications for disability benefits, Barnhart claimed an impressive list or awards and affiliations, including having served as a Navy SEAL, earning five Purple Hearts as well as Bronze and Silver Stars.
The Times quoted Jacobsen, who said Barnhart also improperly sought benefits. In 1991 and 2005, Barnhart told Veterans Affairs interviewers tales of combat missions and a pilot dying in his arms. He said he'd been nominated for the Medal of Honor, the highest award for valor.
Records show that Barnhart did serve in the Navy from 1969 to 1979 and the Coast Guard until 1990. However, he earned only one medal for offshore duty during the Vietnam War. There was no record of combat or combat awards.
Barnhart pleaded guilty to violating federal Stolen Valor legislation by falsely claiming to have been awarded medals. He also pleaded guilty to a felony embezzlement charge tied to $13,923 in disability payments for supposed post-traumatic stress disorder. In a short statement, Barnhart said he'd given the wrong reasons for why he suffered from PTSD, but seemed to defend the diagnosis itself. Judge James Turk accepted Barnhart's guilty pleas and noted that his plea agreement said he would repay the disability payments along with whatever fines and prison term might be imposed. He scheduled sentencing for April 8.
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