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POWs from the Vietnam War contend that Dave Groves, a West Jordan man honored last week by the Veterans Administration and years ago by the University of Utah, was never held captive in Vietnam.

Groves does not appear on a database of Department of Defense Vietnam-era POWs, compiled from military records.

"He's a typical liar," said Mike McGrath, historian of Nam-Pow, a nonprofit organization of Vietnam prisoners of war. "There are 540 of us still alive from Vietnam, and we have 3,000 wannabees who want to be us."

Groves, who has hired an attorney after a week of online challenges to his truthfulness, insists he was a POW who for unexplained reasons does not appear in the Pentagon's database.

"We are retaining legal counsel. Until then we have no further comment except to say these accusations are entirely false and defamatory," Groves' wife, Fran Groves, said Friday afternoon.

On April 13, Groves was one of nearly two dozen men honored at a luncheon for POWs hosted by the Veterans Administration in Salt Lake City. Fran Groves said last weekend that the couple have been invited to the annual luncheon since 1992; they have a commemorative plaque from the VA hanging in their home.

In 2000, Groves was honored at the University of Utah's annual Veterans Day celebration, where he shared the roster with nine other men praised for wartime heroics. At the U. event, typically one of Utah's biggest on Veterans Day, Groves was applauded as a highly decorated soldier.

The program — and a short biography still displayed on the U.'s Veterans Day website — says Groves was awarded three Silver Stars, two Bronze Stars and two Crosses of Gallantry.

That information came from an interview the university conducted with Groves before the event, said Keith Sterling, spokesman at the U.

The university's marketing and communications office, which stages the event, no longer has a file on Groves because the event was nearly 12 years ago, Sterling said. Such files typically include nomination forms and some documentation of a military record.

At the April 13 VA luncheon, Groves said in an interview that he was held captive by the North Vietnamese for six months after his unit, part of the Army's 5th Special Forces, was ambushed. He said he was the only survivor of the ambush, and escaped with other U.S. servicemen, spending two weeks in the jungle before they were found by a Marine patrol.

The VA has not yet responded to questions, submitted Wednesday, about how it vets its honorees. Spokesman James Brown said a response is expected Tuesday.

Mary Schantag, chairwoman of the board of P.O.W. Network, which keeps an online database about former POWs and purported "phonies," said she is convinced Groves is the latter.

She filed a request with the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis earlier this week for Groves' military records. She said that an NPRC employee told her in a phone conversation Friday that he could find no military record for Groves in the database. She is expecting a written notice to that effect in the mail.

The Tribune also filed a request for Groves' military records, considered the definitive evidence of service.

While the DOD database is rarely wrong, one former POW questioned by the network did prove he was held in Vietnam and mistakenly left off the list, McGrath said.

"In all of the 3,000 cases [investigated by P.O.W. Network] only one was correct that he was a POW," McGrath said.

Schantag said the P.O.W. Network flagged Groves in 2003 after he participated in a VA luncheon, but whether the VA was ever informed about the network's suspicions is not clear.

Dale Osborne of Salt Lake City, who spent four and a half years in a North Vietnamese POW camp, said he can't understand why anyone would claim to have been imprisoned.

"There was no valor in being captured," said Osborne, who was in the Navy. Nonetheless, he said, "We did go through four or five years of starvation and torture. To have someone come up and claim, 'I did too,' it just burns me up."

The Groves case reveals another side to the ongoing scourge of stolen valor.

Even when the Pentagon does make a database available, as it does for POWs and those missing in action, it doesn't mean that organizations honoring veterans will make inquires.

Investigating whether a person served in the military or earned medals for combat wounds or valor is much more difficult. There is no public database for those, and it can take months or years to get a response from the St. Louis center.

Schantag and McGrath said the VA has mistakenly listed people as POWs in the past.

A 2009 investigation by The Associated Press found the VA paying disability benefits to 966 Vietnam POWs even though there were then only about 550 living, according to the Department of Defense.

The VA also was giving disability payments to 286 veterans who claimed to have been taken prisoner during the first Gulf War, although the Department of Defense at the time said there were only 21 surviving POWs from that conflict.

"They believe these frauds and grant them benefits and money based on falsehoods," McGrath said.

Said Schantag: "They are accepting false documentation. They are not doing their due diligence."