Blumenthal Warns Veterans of Deceptive Practices Targeting G.I. Benefits, Calls for Action

(Hartford, CT) –Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) today told Connecticut veterans to be wary of deceptive marketing tactics used by for-profit colleges to lure veterans into using their hard-earned benefits for overpriced and ineffective education and training. Recent federal investigations found that many for-profit colleges and universities use predatory recruiting practices and false advertising, specifically targeting veterans, to encourage enrollment in programs with exorbitant fees and low success rates.

Blumenthal specifically cautioned against websites and other promotional materials that use the term “G.I. Bill” as a marketing tool to attract prospective students and enroll them into programs that over-promise the benefits of their classes or charge exorbitant fees. He encouraged veterans to inquire up front about fees, school accreditation, transferability of course credit or certifications, and employment rates of graduates.

“Beware of misuse of the G.I. Bill label,” cautioned Blumenthal. “Deceiving veterans seeking a career path for financial gain is a reprehensible scam that makes some of these for-profit colleges more con artist than educational institution. The web, phone, and other advertising tactics employed by these companies cause personal and financial harm to brave men and women seeking to better themselves with the benefits they fought so hard to earn. Preserving the G.I. Bill as a symbol of what we owe our veterans after their service is essential to keeping faith with them and with American taxpayers.”

On Friday, Blumenthal joined with 13 colleagues urging the Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki to file a trademark application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office for the phrase “G.I. Bill” to help protect veterans from deceptive marketing by giving the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (V.A.) control over how the term is used. This authority could be used to permit only legitimate websites or entities to use the phrase “G.I. Bill” to inform veterans about education benefits in an impartial and comprehensive manner.

The American Association of Community Colleges estimates that over time the tuition charged by for-profit education institutions has averaged six times the cost of community college, and roughly twice that of public four-year institutions. According to the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, of the eight for-profit college companies receiving the most G.I. Bill funds, a combined 409,437 students withdrew from degree programs within one year of enrolling. Of the ten educational institutions collecting the most V.A. benefits, eight are for-profit schools. Together, those eight companies collected $1 billion in 2010 or 24 percent of all benefits.

In addition to Senator Blumenthal, the letter to Secretary Shinseki was signed by Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Al Franken (D-MN), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Max Baucus (D-MT), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Mark Begich (D-AK). 

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

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