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Troy Nehls
Texas Republican Rep. Troy Nehls wears a Combat Infantryman Badge pin from Afghanistan on his suit jacket, right under his 118th Congress pin. Jess Rapfogel/AP

‘It’s Really Shameful’: House Republicans Accuse Rep. Troy Nehls of Stolen Valor Over Military Award Pin

A May investigation found Nehls’ Combat Infantryman Badge was revoked in 2023. He still wears the pin.

House Republicans are accusing Rep. Troy Nehls of “stolen valor” for continuing to wear a lapel pin for infantrymen or Special Forces who fought in active combat.

“It matters. As a former commander, it matters what you wear on your uniform,” Rep. Ryan Zinke, a retired Navy SEAL, told NOTUS. “And if you didn’t earn it, you shouldn’t wear it.”

Nehls wears a Combat Infantryman Badge pin from Afghanistan on his suit jacket, right under his 118th Congress pin. A CBS News investigation in early May found Nehls’ Combat Infantryman Badge had been revoked from his service record in March 2023 because he served as a civil affairs officer and it was mistakenly awarded. Only Infantry or Special Forces soldiers engaged in combat can receive the badge.

Rep. Wesley Hunt, also from Texas, wears a similar pin on his lapel, the Combat Action Badge. It’s what the Army awards to everyone who “engaged with the enemy,” even if they weren’t Infantry or Special Forces. “That’s ridiculous. That’s stolen valor,” Hunt said when hearing about Nehls.

Nehls defended his military record in the wake of the CBS News investigation and a Pentagon and U.S. Army review of his service record. That review stated that Nehls had one Bronze Star — not the two he has claimed — and is not allowed to wear the Combat Infantryman Badge. Nehls posted photographs and paperwork for two Bronze Stars on his X account last month.

“The Department of Defense (DoD) claims I was awarded only one Bronze Star. Wrong. I have two,” he said in the post. Nehls did not respond to NOTUS’ request for comment on him continuing to wear the CIB pin.

His Republican colleagues in the House have noticed that he hasn’t removed the badge — one he’s worn since joining Congress in 2021. NOTUS spoke with a dozen military veteran Republican lawmakers about Nehls’ pin. Some were granted anonymity to speak freely about their colleague. Eight expressed deep frustration with Nehls for wearing the pin. Those who were more reluctant to cast aspersions said they took the matter seriously and were independently reviewing the allegations against the Texas Republican.

“We hold ourselves to a higher standard as veterans,” a House Republican lawmaker told NOTUS. “He needs to stop wearing it.”

“If you’re wearing something that’s specifically been addressed as something you can’t wear, that is stolen valor,” another Republican lawmaker said. “It’s specifically addressed in U.S. Code, that particular badge,” they added, noting that if the person did not serve in the infantry but continues to wear the badge, it’s “illegal and stolen.”

Combat Infantryman Badge
Only Infantry or Special Forces soldiers engaged in combat can receive the badge. Matt Rourke/AP

“It’s really shameful,” said another. “It speaks to deep insecurities. Combat Infantry Badges are given out for combat. He didn’t earn it.”

Another Republican lawmaker called it an “abuse of power.”

“There’s so many things wrong with a congressman doing that,” they added. “That’s over and above just somebody else who’s trying to just get away with it.”

Those who had not heard of the investigation into Nehls’ service record told NOTUS they would be looking into Nehls wearing the pin.

“If that is true, he shouldn’t be wearing it,” one lawmaker said, noting that they planned to reach out personally to the Pentagon to confirm Nehls’ badge had been revoked. “Doesn’t matter, Democrat or Republican, you shouldn’t wear something you didn’t earn.”

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Michigan Republican Rep. Jack Bergman, a retired two-star general, also said he was using personal back channels to verify the report that Nehls’ Combat Infantryman Badge had been revoked, saying he knew about the issue and would “trust but verify” the information. Florida’s Rep. Michael Waltz said he was unaware of the CBS News investigation and noted just how difficult and serious the situation is.

Many military veterans in Congress wear service pins, though few wear pins denoting an award, as Nehls is doing. Rep. Nick LaLota is usually seen with a Surface Warfare Officer pin, Zinke wears a small Navy SEAL Trident on his lapel, Rep. Jen Kiggans wears aviator wings and Waltz almost always has on his Special Forces branch pin.

Nehls comes from a military family and left the U.S. Army Reserve with an Honorable Discharge. According to his and the department records, he deployed as a Civil Affairs officer to Afghanistan and Iraq.

According to the Army’s specifications on award eligibility for the Combat Infantryman Badge, any “personnel with other than an infantry or Special Forces MOS are not eligible, regardless of the circumstances.”

John T. Seward is a NOTUS reporter and an Allbritton Journalism Institute fellow.