For generations, symbols of dedication and bravery have been awarded to our military men and women who have risked life and limb defending our country. But INSIDE EDITION has found not everyone wearing military decorations deserves them.
It is now a federal crime to impersonate a war hero and wear valor medals you never earned. It is called Stolen Valor and it happens more often than you might think.
Michael McManus wore a chest full of medals when he showed up at an event for the mayor of Houston in December 2009.
And when Steven Burton attended his high school reunion in California, he wore a Marine uniform dripping with medals, including a Purple Heart.
The problem is that prosecutors say neither of these men ever earned any of the valor awards they're wearing. Both were arrested by the FBI. McManus has pled not guilty and is awaiting trial. Burton has pled guilty.
"We have all these people who are pretending to be veterans, to be decorated, have a chest full of medals. And they go out in public to do this. To gain recognition," says Lieutenant Colonel Tom Richards, a decorated Vietnam War veteran.
Richards leads the Stolen Valor task force, which exposes fraudulent war heroes.
"It's a betrayal of all veterans," he says.
But even real veterans, like Captain Dale Lucas, have come under fire for exaggerating their military records.
"It's very popular to be a decorated veteran, especially with a Purple Heart," Richards tells INSIDE EDITION.
Lucas served his country proudly in Vietnam and even earned a silver star. But since then, Lucas has been accused of greatly embellishing his military career and parading around wearing medals he's never earned.
Lucas has participated in ceremonies and presided over dozens of veterans' funerals. He has been known to wear a general's uniform decorated with three Purple Hearts and the Distinguished Service Cross, a valor award second only to the Medal of Honor.
The problem is that Lucas never earned those medals. And he's not, and never was, a general in the United States military.
INSIDE EDITION obtained his military records that show he retired as a captain in the U.S. Army and never received those Purple Hearts or the Distinguished Service Cross.
Lucas says most of his records were destroyed as part of a military conspiracy against him.
Decorated veterans Alex Fabros and Gil De La Pena believe Lucas is inflating his credentials for personal glory.
"I think it's his ego. He wants to be something he's not. It's a mockery and it's not right," said De La Pena.
They were outraged when Lucas marched in the 2008 Fresno Veterans Day parade wearing a general's uniform.
But they say the ultimate slap in the face came when they witnessed Lucas present the American flag to a prisoner of war from World War II.
Rudy Giaonni was that POW. He says Lucas's impersonation tarnished the honor and significance of the event.
"When I found out he was something else, I didn't want anything to do with him," says Giaonni.
Despite the controversy, Lucas has continued to perform at veterans' funerals, even comforting family members of the deceased.
"This is a disgrace to his uniform and service he served under," says de la Pena.
INSIDE EDITION's Matt Meagher tried to talk to Lucas, and he wasn't happy about it.
"Get that god-damn camera out of my face," Lucas said.
"Isn't it a disservice to men and women that earned those medals?" Meagher asked him.
"I earned every god-damn thing I wear," replied Lucas.
Lucas is currently under investigation by the FBI, but continues to maintain he's done nothing wrong.
Trending on Inside Edition
Woman Says She Keeps Getting Dozens of Amazon Packages She Didn't OrderOffbeat
Family of Christian Glass Reaches $19 Million Settlement in Fatal Police Shooting of Colorado ManCrime
California Dad Fatally Struck by Car After Helping Ducks Cross Busy StreetNews
LAPD Volunteer Officer Who Survived Near-Fatal Bee Attack on Live TV Speaks OutHeroes
Man 'Eaten Alive by Bed Bugs' in Jail Cell After He Could Not Post Bail Died of 'Severe Neglect': AutopsyCrime