The Pentagon opposes a bill in Congress that would require the Medal of Honor’s metal content to be 90 percent gold, but the Veterans of Foreign Wars supports it.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said Paul Hayden, associate director of legislation for the 1.9 million-member VFW.
A defense official who requested anonymity disagreed: “The Medal of Honor has its own intrinsic value based on the valor of those who receive it, not the monetary value of the medal. Increasing the gold content cannot increase the prestige of the Medal of Honor.”
Mr. Hayden said he was “surprised to learn” in an article published Monday in The Washington Times that Congress spends as much as $30,000 each for Congressional Gold Medals awarded to “people who never sacrificed their lives” like Medal of Honor recipients.
Film stars, religious leaders, foreign dignitaries and philanthropists have received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest award bestowed by the U.S. government for distinguished achievements. It is 90 percent gold.
In contrast, the Medal of Honor the highest military award is either gold-plated bronze or brass, costing between $30 and $75, depending on the branch of service that awards it. It is given for risk of life in combat beyond the call of duty.
Increasing its gold content would increase its cost to about $2,300. Its monetary value would obviously increase, but it is illegal to sell the Medal of Honor.
The bill to make that medal mostly gold is sponsored by Rep. Joe Baca, California Democrat. As of Friday, the bill had 16 co-sponsors, only four of them Republicans.
Mr. Hayden said consideration has been given to awarding predominantly gold replacement medals to the 147 living recipients of the Medal of Honor and to the immediate families of other medal recipients who have died.
Mr. Hayden said the Congressional Budget Office examined the cost of such a proposal. He said the CBO estimated the price tag would be $2,300 per medal, or a total of $2 million to $3 million over a period of four years.
Some people who read Monday’s story in The Times thought the $30,000 price for the Congressional Gold Medal was a misprint. According to the U.S. Mint, that is the approximate cost of a single gold medal crafted for one person and the amount Congress has authorized for such a medal.
A source close to the CBO said there’s about $5,500 worth of gold in a Congressional Gold Medal and that it costs at least $10,000 to strike the first one. That makes the minimum price for such an award $15,500. But that source confirmed the striking cost could be as high as $30,000.
Rep. John M. McHugh, chairman of Armed Services’ military personnel subcommittee, says he has some reservations about Mr. Baca’s proposal to make the Medal of Honor 90 percent gold. But the New York Republican said he believes such a change would mean the cost of the medal would escalate to $30,000, and he questioned the cost-effectiveness of such an expense.
Mr. McHugh said he was not aware of reports indicating the price would be more like $2,300. He indicated he would like to hear personally from Mr. Baca about his bill.
Supporters of the measure include Rep. Christopher Smith, New Jersey Republican, chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, and Reps. Walter B. Jones Jr., North Carolina Republican, and Rob Simmons, Connecticut Republican, both members of the Armed Services Committee. A spokeswoman for the Armed Services Committee said that panel has not taken a position on the Baca bill.