A veteran was applauded last week as he received a service dog from an Independence organization in a ceremony attended by veterans, public officials and others. But within a day of that ceremony, veterans and organizations from across the country were questioning the veteran’s background, which listed multiple Purple Heart awards and episodes of being a prisoner of war.
“The honest truth ... is that, were it not for his ridiculous POW claim, the rest of his story could conceivably be true, although his separation from service as a Lance Corporal is hard to believe given the mileage of his operational experience,” said one email from Marine Corps Intelligence Activity.
But the dog training service, Canine Specialty Training LLC, that provided the service dog, as well as the Injured Semper Fi Fund, the organization that funded the donation, stand by the veteran, Lance Cpl. Chris McFarland. And McFarland says there is an explanation.
“No one presented them to me,” McFarland said about his service medals. “I’ve only seen them on paper.”
He also added the times he was captured by enemy combatants in both Iraq and Afghanistan went “unreported.” And he said he isn't pursuing any awards or recognition.
According to the Marine Corps Public Affairs Office, McFarland served in the Marines from 2002 to 2006. U.S. Army Public Affairs Officer Tim Irvin also confirmed that McFarland served in the Army from 2006 to 2013, with tours in Iraq from February 2007 to April 2008 and in Afghanistan from May to August 2010.
Alicia Sellitti, public relations consultant; Wendy Lethin, community outreach director; and Susan Rocco, vice president of case management, of the Injured Semper Fi Fund all said that McFarland’s background met their criteria in order to be given a service dog. The organization received his DD Form 214s that detail his service, medals, medical records and disability ratings. They added that all veterans who request their assistance go through a “rigorous background check” and McFarland’s service records passed its verification process.
Sellitti said ISFF selects certified dog trainers that meet specific needs for eligible veterans, plus verify the authenticity of them as well.
Susan Bass of CST was approved by ISFF to provide and train Shadow, the Beauceron breed, for McFarland.
“There is no doubt that he (McFarland) is disabled,” said Bass. She added that she was privy to his medical records during her team training with McFarland and Shadow to vet his need.
“I knew he was a veteran. Semper Fi (Fund) decided he is a veteran, too, because they have qualifications.”
“My concern is not so much the value of what McFarland may have received as much as the fact that someone who gets benefits through false credentials undermines the whole community and hurts the ability for organizations to raise funds for real veterans in need,” wrote one veteran advocate.
Shadow remains with McFarland.