Mikulski, Senate Colleagues Call For Protecting Veterans From Deceptive Marketing Practices

Senators urge VA to trademark the phrase ‘GI Bill’ to stop for-profit schools from targeting veterans with misleading advertisements

March 2, 2012

Washington -  U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), a member of the Senate Military Family Caucus, joined with 13 colleagues today in urging Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to file a trademark application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the phrase 'GI Bill' to help protect veterans from deceptive marketing by for-profit colleges and universities.  

Recent investigations by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) found that many for-profit colleges and universities use predatory recruiting practices and false advertising to encourage prospective students to enroll, despite having low student success rates and high costs.  Many of these ads specifically target veterans. Trademarking the phrase 'GI Bill' would help bring this to an end by allowing the Department of Veterans Affairs to ensure that the phrase is only being used to provide impartial and comprehensive information about these benefits.  

In their letter, the Senators write, "Since 1944 the phrase 'GI Bill' has been a symbol of our nation's obligation to give back to those who serve. Any attempt to mislead veterans into using these hard-earned benefits for substandard or overpriced programs should not be tolerated. As such, we ask that you trademark the phrase 'GI Bill' to help ensure that our veterans are not unfairly targeted."  

In addition to Senator Mikulski, the letter is signed by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Tim Johnson (D-S.D.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.), Mark Begich (D-Ark.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.).  

The full text of the Senators' letter is below:  

March 2, 2012  
The Honorable Eric K. Shinseki
Department of Veterans Affairs
801 Vermont Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20420  

Dear Secretary Shinseki:  

We write to express our deep concern about the growing trend of deceptive practices being used by some for-profit colleges and universities to recruit veterans. Specifically, the phrase "GI Bill" is being used as a marketing tool by a number of for-profit schools to attract prospective students into programs that overpromise the benefits of their classes or charge exorbitant fees. To combat this growing problem, we strongly urge the Department of Veterans Affairs to file a trademark application with the Patent and Trademark Office for the phrase "GI Bill."  

By securing a federal trademark, the Department of Veterans Affairs would be able to exert control over how the phrase "GI Bill" is used. For example, the Department of Veterans Affairs would have the discretion to permit legitimate websites or entities to use the phrase "GI Bill" to inform veterans about education benefits in an impartial and comprehensive manner.  

At the same time, a federal trademark would prevent the phrase "GI Bill" from being used in misleading or dishonest marketing campaigns. A recent investigation by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) found that many for-profit colleges and universities are using predatory recruiting practices and false advertising to encourage veterans to enroll in their institutions, despite having low student success rates and high costs. A trademark would help bring this to an end.  

Since 1944 the phrase "GI Bill" has been a symbol of our nation's obligation to give back to those who serve. Any attempt to mislead veterans into using these hard-earned benefits for substandard or overpriced programs should not be tolerated. As such, we ask that you trademark the phrase "GI Bill" to help ensure that our veterans are not unfairly targeted.  

The federal government regularly protects phrases, such as "American Veterans" and names of federal benefit programs like "Medicare" and "Social Security." We feel strongly that the phrase "GI Bill" should also be protected.  

Thank you for your consideration of this important request.  

Sincerely,  

Barbara Boxer
United States Senator  

Tom Harkin
United States Senator  

Richard Durbin
United States Senator  

Ron Wyden
United States Senator  

Claire McCaskill
United States Senator  

Al Franken
United States Senator  

Barbara Mikulski
United States Senator  

Max Baucus
United States Senator  

Sherrod Brown
United States Senator  

Tim Johnson
United States Senator  

Kay Hagan
United States Senator  

Frank Lautenberg
United States Senator  

Mark Begich
United States Senator  

Richard Blumenthal
United States Senator