When Navy veteran Mike O’Dell needed a new license plate, his wife Connie went to the DMV to get him one. Once she returned home with an official U.S. Navy license plate, however, O’Dell realized that she didn’t have to show the DMV any proof that she had served. The office had simply sold to her, just as it would sell a civilian license plate.
According to Florida state law, a licensed driver does not need to prove their military service in order to buy a military plate. Thousands of plates celebrating military service are sold every year, and in the last year alone Florida issued 110,000 service plates. O’Dell is trying to change that law so that the DMV verifies a driver’s military status before selling military license plates.
“I asked at least three or four dozen veterans since then and none of them were aware that the people driving around with those license plates weren’t necessarily in the service,” said O’Dell. “They were not happy to find that out. We served our country. We deserve those plates. Those who did not, don’t deserve those plates.”
The main worry is that impersonators and frauds might use the plate to commit stolen valor. O’Dell said that if a civilian wants to show support for military veterans, they should buy a supporter license plate instead of a military one.
However, not all military plates are sold indiscriminately to Florida drivers. Air Force veteran Steve Murray, a spokesman for Florida’s Department of Veterans Affairs, pointed out that some plates do require proof of service. For example, to buy his Operation Iraqi Freedom plate, Murray had to prove that he had actually served in Iraq during that mission.
Proof of service is also required to buy the plates commemorating service in Afghanistan, winning medals of valor, becoming and prisoner of war and losing a loved one overseas.
Even so, O’Dell is still hoping to crack down on selling military plates to non-military members. “We have enough problems with stolen valor out there,” he said.