Military fakers in Pennsylvania may want to consider a change of station.

The state on Tuesday passed stolen valor legislation that will make impersonating a service member or veteran, or wearing unearned military decorations, a third-degree misdemeanor if it's done "with intent to obtain money, property or other benefit," the legislation states.

The law goes into effect in 60 days. 

"This legislation is incredibly important because Pennsylvania has the fourth-largest veteran population in the country," Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said in a statement, "and it is our duty to be certain that benefits for those veterans are available to those who have earned them."

Third-degree misdemeanors in Pennsylvania can result in jail time of up to a year and a fine of up to $2,000. The law expands upon the federal statute, which provides for a fine and up to a year behind bars for wearing unearned military decorations such as the Medal of Honor, Purple Heart or Combat Action Badge, with the intent to receive some tangible benefit.

That law went into effect in 2013, a year after the Supreme Court struck down existing federal stolen valor legislation on free-speech grounds. That 2005 law did not include language limiting punishment to those seeking or obtaining financial benefit; in a case involving a California man who lied about receiving the Medal of Honor, the court held that "falsity alone does not bring speech outside First Amendment protection" and ruled the law unconstitutional.

Many states have passed stolen valor legislation in the wake of that ruling. Just in 2015, for instance:

  • A Massachusetts law with similar provisions to the Pennsylvania law gives fakers up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.
  • A New Jersey law mandated a minimum $1,000 fine for impersonating a service member or wearing unearned medals, and attempting to benefit from the ruse. The money goes into a scholarship fund for military dependents.
  • A Texas law upped the stolen valor penalty in that state from a maximum $500 fine to a $2,000 max fine and up to 180 days in jail.

Kevin Lilley is the features editor of Military Times.

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