Veterans shame Democrat in top 2024 House race for wearing Army uniform during event despite never serving

A group of Michigan veterans are calling on a Democrat running for Congress to apologize for wearing part of a U.S. Army-issued uniform during a Veterans Day event despite having never served in the military.

Fox News Digital has obtained a letter signed by 28 veterans and addressed to former Michigan state Sen. Curtis Hertel, the likely Democrat nominee for the state’s competitive 7th Congressional District, accusing him of giving the impression that he served in the military and committing an act of “stolen valor” by wearing the jacket.

The letter specifically focused on Hertel’s attendance at a Nov. 11 wreath laying ceremony at the Michigan Veterans Memorial in Lansing, when he wore a now-retired U.S. Army-issued physical fitness jacket while speaking at the event despite not being listed in its programming.

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“We, the undersigned veterans of U.S. military service, write to you today to express our deep concern over your conscious decision to wear an official U.S. Army-issued uniform while speaking at a Veterans Day event last month in Lansing, despite not having served in the Army or any other branch of the U.S. military,” the letter read.

“We respectfully request that you publicly apologize to all American veterans, in Michigan and elsewhere, and pledge not to repeat the offense,” it read.

“As you must be aware, wearing official military-issue attire, especially at a ceremony honoring those who have served, leaves the clear and unmistakable impression that you personally served in uniform. As a public servant who has frequently professed to support veterans and veterans’ issues, you must also know that this brand of ‘stolen valor’ is frowned upon,” it added. 

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The letter stated that Hertel never clarified to those in attendance that he never actually served in the military, and noted that although the jacket is a retired uniform and no longer in use by the Army, it “is intrinsically linked to the Global War on Terror era of military service,” and is a period Hertel was eligible to serve, based on his age, but did not.

“Additionally, because you were not issued the jacket by the Army, you must have obtained it from someone who was, which means you were aware of its status as an official uniform when you acquired it,” it added.

According to U.S. Army regulations, the physical fitness uniform is not considered appropriate for “social or official functions off the installation, such as memorial services, funerals, weddings, inaugurals, patriotic ceremonies, and similar functions.” Additionally, retirees are authorized to wear the physical fitness uniform, but not as part of such a ceremony or gathering.

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When reached for comment, Hertel told Fox News Digital the jacket was a gift from his brother-in-law, who serves as a U.S. Army officer.

“My brother-in-law, an army major who is about to retire, gave me that jacket as a Christmas present. I wore it on Veterans Day to honor him and the other members of my family who served,” he said.

Vietnam veteran Jack Devine, an organizer on veterans’ issues in the Lansing area and across Michigan who was also a speaker at the Veterans Day event attended by Hertel, defended the candidate in a statement to Fox. 

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“Curtis has always been a relentless advocate for veterans. It is ridiculous that he is getting attacked for supporting his family and other members of the military on Veterans Day,” he said.

Additionally, Hertel’s campaign pointed to the now-retired jacket being available for purchase by the public, and touted his record on veterans’ issues as a state senator, including sponsoring a bill to create a new veterans’ cemetery, supporting legislation to make it easier for Michigan’s service members serving overseas to vote, and supporting a bill that made it easier for disabled veterans’ spouses to receive a property tax exemption.

The race for Michigan’s 7th Congressional District is expected to be one of the most closely watched in 2024 as Republicans aim to grow their narrow majority in the House, and Democrats hope to flip the chamber.

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The seat is currently held by Democrat Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who is running for Senate to replace retiring Democrat Sen. Debbie Stabenow.

Hertel will likely face off in the general election with former Republican state Sen. Tom Barrett, who served in the U.S. Army for more than 20 years. Barrett was the Republican nominee for the district in 2022, but lost to Slotkin 52%-46%.

Get the latest updates from the 2024 campaign trail, exclusive interviews and more at our Fox News Digital election hub.

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