Stolen valor backfires for Virginia Democrat

A state senate candidate in Virginia is trying to put out a political blaze over his misstated military service. 

Seventh Senate district Democratic nominee Gary McCollum said in a statement on his campaign website Thursday that his "remorseful" and "embarrassed" after a local newspaper shot down his claim of having served for the past 14 years.

On his website, in press releases, and in campaign appearances, McCollum is stated to be a Major in the Army Reserves. A Virginian-Pilot story found McCollum had been discharged from the service on September 1, 2001.

The discrepancy between McCollum's claims and the facts behind his service quickly created a political firestorm. Republican Party of Virginia Chairman John Whitbeck called for McCollum to drop out of the race.

Delegate Scott Taylor Delegate Scott Taylor, a former US Navy SEAL and Iraq War veteran, said, “It is disappointing and disgusting that [McCollum] would claim to be in the Army, during war, currying favor in business and politics on the backs of those who really did serve since 9/11. Those in Virginia Beach and elsewhere do not look kindly on stolen valor.”

In his online statement, McCollum outlines the dates of his Army service. In 1992, he says he, "became part of the inactive portion of the Reserve that involves no regular communication with the military."

McCollum may be referring to the Army's "Individual Ready Reserve." Individual Ready Reserve members are not required to attend drills. However, they are responsible for keeping the Army aware of their current location and contact information if the Army needs to call them to active duty. IRR members were called to serve in both the first and second Iraq wars. McCollum was not in these groups.

McCollum blames the Army for not notifying him he had been discharged 14 years ago: "I should have received a letter informing me of my official discharge. Not only do I believe I never received that letter, but even when my campaign requested my full military records earlier this year, there was no such note of discharge included."

But McCollum also accepts responsibility for the confusion: "Does this make it excusable that our campaign website and some printed materials read 'currently a Major in the Army Reserve' instead of 'was a Major in the Army Reserve'? Of course not."

McCollum faces incumbent Republican Sen. Frank Wagner in the November election. The Seventh district covers parts of Norfolk and Virginia Beach, and was made more Republican-leaning in the 2010 redistricting. Republican Ed Gillespie won the district over Sen. Mark Warner in 2014 and Republican gubernatorial nominee Ken Cuccinelli won there over Terry McAuliffe in 2013.