By Mike Gangloff
A man who falsely claimed a chestful of military medals was sentenced to a year and a day in prison and was ordered to repay $11,098 in veterans benefits he shouldn't have received.
Thomas Barnhart, 59, had 21 years of legitimate Navy and Coast Guard service, including offshore duty in Vietnam. But starting in 1979, he began inflating his experience in claims for promotions and benefits, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jake Jacobsen told U.S. District Judge James Turk today in Roanoke.
Among Barnhart's lies, according to the prosecutor: he was a Navy SEAL, he received elite low-altitude parachute training, he was awarded five Purple Hearts, three Bronze Stars, two Silver Stars and a Vietnamese medal of honor. He also falsely claimed that a downed U.S. helicopter pilot died in his arms and that he saw other U.S. soldiers die around him.
Jacobsen, a veteran of the current Iraq war, called Barnhart's conduct "repugnant."
Barnhart wept in court and said he lied because neither the Navy nor the U.S. public appreciated his real service.
"I just can't punish myself enough," he said, sobbing. "Every day I ask forgiveness."