The Damage Done by Sarah Cavanaugh
It’s hard for me not to react emotionally to the news of Sarah Cavanaugh being revealed as a “stolen valor” con artist. I’m a native Rhode Islander, Marine Corps veteran, and loud supporter of the myriad groups involved in this scandal (Hunter Seven Foundation, PB Abbate, and the VFW). After hearing about her scam, I felt nearly the same visceral reaction when I read Hunter Seven’s original post about Sarah; this time, my feelings were yanked in the opposite direction.
I want to take some time in this post and applaud both PB Abbate and Hunter Seven Foundation for their transparency. It seems that as soon as things started to get a bit fishy, both groups took a knee, admitted their faults, and promised to take corrective actions to prevent this sort of dreadful thing from happening again.
I’m not using the word dreadful as a hyperbole. This breach of trust is a stunning revelation that these con artists are still out there doing much more than leeching treasure from charitable groups. Individuals like Sarah damage reputations and confidence, both inside and outside the organizations that have been taken advantage of.
This isn’t just some one-off incident where she could slip the wool over someone’s eyes and cash in. Sarah has been an outspoken voice in the Rhode Island combat-wounded community (https://www.independentri.com/news/article_01a382f2-faf3-11eb-aa71-bbdb86784c57.html).
My fellow Rhode Islanders had looked upon this woman as she stood before them with medals of valor and told them what war is like. Why wouldn’t they believe her? She has the swagger. The medals. The VFW hat. Hell, she was the COMMANDER of the North Kingstown, RI VFW Post. You don’t just get that position by showing up and knocking back beers with the mates every third Tuesday of the month. You have to work for that, and Sarah was recognized as having a legitimate background as a combat-wounded Marine that continued to serve her fellow veterans.
What you read above was originally posted roughly a year ago (February 2022). So much has come to fruition regarding this story, and I want to tie a bow to it. It came to light that Sarah Cavanaugh was in fact not a Marine. She never served a second in the Armed Forces. Unfortunately, this is a bad look for any agency verifying her fraudulent application to their institution. Thankfully, Sarah will be paying in full. In a historic sentencing in the world of Stolen Valor, Sarah has been convicted to 70 months in prison. Speaking to the court during her sentencing, she said:
"I'm sorry for what I did and the people I hurt. I know the damage cannot be undone....I will always carry the burden of shame for what I've done."
Yes, Sarah. You have done irreparable damage to our community. Like a saboteur, you manipulated critical points of contact into funding your lies.
Many of us have legitimately been injured in combat, and I cannot blame those who cannot find a way to forgive her crimes, despite her history of sexual abuse. Instead of healing and working through her trauma, she chose to turn the opportunity to develop healthy coping mechanisms into a campaign of thievery.
I am grateful that Sarah has 70 months to contemplate her actions. Redemption is fundamental; however she finds it, I hope it happens for her.
To my fellow veterans, stay vigilant. These cases are rare, but the days of the DD-214 being some sacred document are long gone. We have seen dozens of cases of forgery of this document, and it doesn't take a lot of skill to mess around with them digitally.