At least two troops have been denied the chance for receiving the Medal of Honor from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the cases, that of Marine Corps Sgt. Rafael Perlata, is now under review by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and an announcement could be made within weeks, according to Pentagon officials.
Hunter believes that there are many other cases where commanders put troops in for lesser awards because they knew the process would be easier to ensure the troops were recognized rather than endure the process for the Medal of Honor, where the paperwork would most likely never be properly processed.
"The criteria for the Medal of Honor are longstanding and have not changed for the current conflicts. Each recommendation is carefully considered based on the merits of the individual's actions, eyewitness accounts, and other supporting evidence. The standard for the Medal of Honor is high, as one would expect for our Nation's most prestigious military decoration," Army spokesman Platt told CNN.
Hunter is a former Marine who served in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He has been pushing for more transparency in the military awards process for much of his time in Congress, questioning the military's -- and specifically the Army's -- procedures on how it operates its awards system because of what he sees as an unorganized and outdated process that could be easily maintained digitally.
Hunter also pressed the Army this fall after a private Army contractor accidentally posted a list of 500 names of soldiers who received combat awards and their Social Security numbers. Among the names released were Silver Star recipients from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Sterner discovered the list and saw that the Pentagon's list of Silver Star names was shorter than the Army's list.
Hunter demanded Army Secretary John McHugh look into the award status of nine soldiers and clarify their status in early October. He also chastised the secretary for continued problems in the Army's award process.
McHugh sent a response letter to Hunter on November 5, updating him on the findings of the Army review.
"This review verified that four of the Soldiers were not actually awarded the Silver Star, and five Soldiers were awarded the Silver Star, but are not listed due to the sensitive nature of the operation in which they participated," McHugh's letter said.
Hunter was not satisfied with the answers and sent a letter back to McHugh last week saying there were many questions about the award status that had gone unanswered because of "ambiguity" in McHugh's letter.
McHugh's office did not answer questions from CNN, saying only that staffers did not comment on personal correspondence between the secretary and members of Congress.
Pentagon spokeswoman Lainez said it was an Army issue to discuss because the Army maintains its own records.
But Sterner doubts the Pentagon is being forthright and says not all of these names in question are being held for security reasons. He believes it's just another excuse for sloppy record-keeping on the part of the military services.
McHugh's letter also updated Hunter on the Army's review into the public posting of more than 500 soldiers who have received medals for combat valor since 2001. More than 30 of the soldiers had their Social Security numbers inadvertently posted.
McHugh detailed the process the Army was doing to ensure those soldiers and their families were receiving credit protection. He also said there was a full review that looked at the award processing procedures for honors such as the Bronze and Silver stars and higher awards.
"The results of this investigation will include recommendations of measures the Army can implement to prevent similar incidents in the future...personnel who routinely handle (sensitive award information) are being retrained on handling procedures to ensure the information is appropriately safeguarded," McHugh told Hunter.