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Public Statements

Letter to Eric Shinseki, Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs - GI Bill

U.S. Senator Kay Hagan today announced that she is co-sponsoring The GI Bill Protection Act of 2012, which would permanently prohibit the inappropriate and misleading use of the phrase "GI Bill" in the marketing materials of for-profit colleges.

"The phrase "GI Bill' has been a symbol of our nation's obligations to give back to those who serve," Hagan said. "Any attempt to mislead veterans into using these hard-earned benefits for substandard or overpriced programs should not be tolerated. Our veterans should not be unfairly targeted."

Statutory protection is necessary to permanently protect the term "GI Bill." Congress has a long history of providing permanent statutory protection for phrases such as "American Veterans," and the names of federal benefit programs like "Medicare" and "Social Security" to prevent misuse and abuse of these phrases. The GI Bill Protection Act of 2012 would provide the same protection for the phrase "GI Bill."

TheGI Bill Protection Act of 2012 has been endorsed by the Military Officers of Association America and the Veterans of ForeignWars.

BACKGROUND

In March, Hagan and 13 Senate colleagues sent a letter (see below) to United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki urging him to submit an application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to trademark the phrase "GI Bill" in order to help curb abuses of the phrase by for-profit colleges.

In April, President Obama issued an executive order requiring the Department of Veterans Affair to follow through with this application, marking an effective first step to permanently protecting the phrase "GI Bill" from those who would exploit it.

However, trademark protection is not always permanent. The owner of the trademark must actively maintain the protection by pursuing those who are improperly using the trademarked property. If a trademark is not maintained, the protection expires.

Hagan is working on legislation, the Protecting Financial Aid for Students and Taxpayers Act, which prohibits federal funds from being used on out-of-control advertising, marketing and recruitment campaigns by all colleges and universities. It continues to make progress in the Senate.

Just last month, Hagan joined national leaders to announce that the Web site GIBill.com had been turned over to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs after being managed by a company mimicking the layout and format of the official GI Bill website. This tactic led veterans to believe that their benefits could only be used at the schools listed on the website, which were almost all for-profit institutions.

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 attractprospective 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 andcomprehensive 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


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