Curtis Hertel, a Democratic congressional candidate, has sparked outrage by donning a U.S. Army uniform during a Veterans Day event. Recently surfaced images reveal that Hertel wore an Army-issued physical fitness jacket on November 11, 2023, in Lansing, Michigan. Despite never having served in the military, Hertel, a former Michigan state senator, is now vying for a seat in the House of Representatives for Michigan’s 7th Congressional District.

A group of Michigan veterans has demanded an apology from Hertel for wearing a portion of a U.S. Army-issued uniform. This demand was articulated in a letter signed by 28 veterans and addressed to Hertel. As the Democratic nominee for the fiercely contested 7th Congressional District, Hertel is expected to face significant scrutiny.

The letter accuses Hertel of creating the false impression that he has military experience, labeling his actions as an act of “stolen valor.” The veterans specifically highlight Hertel’s presence at a wreath-laying ceremony on November 11 at the Michigan Veterans Memorial in Lansing, where he was photographed wearing the retired U.S. Army-issued physical fitness jacket, despite not being officially included in the event’s program.

“We, the undersigned veterans of U.S. military service, write to you today to express our deep concern over your conscious decision to wear an official U.S. Army-issued uniform while speaking at a Veterans Day event last month in Lansing, despite not having served in the Army or any other branch of the U.S. military,” the letter read.

“We respectfully request that you publicly apologize to all American veterans, in Michigan and elsewhere, and pledge not to repeat the offense,” it read.

“As you must be aware, wearing official military-issue attire, especially at a ceremony honoring those who have served, leaves the clear and unmistakable impression that you personally served in uniform.

“As a public servant who has frequently professed to support veterans and veterans’ issues, you must also know that this brand of ‘stolen valor’ is frowned upon,” it added.

Hertel’s failure to disclose his lack of military service was not addressed during the meeting, as mentioned in the letter. It further emphasized that the jacket, although retired and no longer worn by the Army, holds significant symbolism as it represents the era of military service during the Global War on Terror. It was highlighted that Hertel, being of eligible age, could have served during that period but chose not to.

“Additionally, because you were not issued the jacket by the Army, you must have obtained it from someone who was, which means you were aware of its status as an official uniform when you acquired it,” it added.

According to U.S. Army regulations, the physical fitness uniform is not considered appropriate for “social or official functions off the installation, such as memorial services, funerals, weddings, inaugurals, patriotic ceremonies, and similar functions.”

Furthermore, Hertel asserted that the jacket had been bestowed upon him as a present by his brother-in-law, who holds a position as an officer in the U.S. Army.

“My brother-in-law, an army major who is about to retire, gave me that jacket as a Christmas present,” he claimed in a statement.

“I wore it on Veterans Day to honor him and the other members of my family who served.”

Jack Devine, a Vietnam veteran and advocate for veterans’ concerns in the Lansing region and throughout Michigan, expressed his support for the candidate during the Veterans Day ceremony attended by Hertel, as stated in his official statement.

“Curtis has always been a relentless advocate for veterans,” he said.

“It is ridiculous that he is getting attacked for supporting his family and other members of the military on Veterans Day.”

Furthermore, Hertel’s campaign emphasized the availability of the now-retired jacket for public purchase. They also highlighted his commendable track record on veterans’ issues during his tenure as a state senator. This includes sponsoring a bill to establish a new veterans’ cemetery, supporting legislation to facilitate voting for Michigan’s service members serving overseas, and backing a bill that simplified the process for disabled veterans’ spouses to receive a property tax exemption.

The upcoming race for Michigan’s 7th Congressional District is anticipated to be closely monitored in 2024. Republicans aim to expand their slim majority in the House, while Democrats aspire to regain control of the chamber.

Currently, the seat is held by Democrat Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), who is running for Senate to succeed retiring Democrat Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

In the general election, Hertel is likely to compete against former Republican state Sen. Tom Barrett. Barrett has an extensive background, having served in the U.S. Army for over 20 years.

Barrett previously ran as the Republican candidate for the district in 2022 but was defeated by Slotkin, who secured 52% of the votes compared to Barrett’s 46%.