Senate Pushes To Protect Term “GI Bill” From Misuse

U.S. Senators are pushing for a bill that would permanently prohibit the misleading use of the phrase “GI Bill” by for-profit colleges.

The GI Bill Protection Act of 2012 was introduced June 20 by Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and is co-sponsored by 12 other senators. It would provide statutory protection for the term “GI Bill” and ensure for-profit schools could not misuse the phrase in their marketing efforts to attract veterans as institutions have done in the past.

“The phrase ‘GI Bill’ has been a symbol of our nation’s obligations to give back to those who serve,” Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), a co-sponsor of the bill, said in a press release. “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.”

In North Carolina, more than $24 million, or 23.7 percent of GI Bill funds used statewide, was spent on for-profit colleges even though the institutions only educated 12 percent of the veterans who attended school on the government’s dime from August 2009 to July 2011. Public schools received double the amount of money, but educated 67 percent of the veterans who used their education benefits in N.C., according to data from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The top five for-profit schools in N.C. include ITT Technical Institutes, The Art Institutes, Miller-Motte College, ECPI College of Technology and University of Phoenix, all of which received $19 million, or 18.5 percent of all N.C. GI Bill benefits, between August 2009 and July 2011, according to the VA.

In an effort to curb abuses of the phrase by for-profit colleges, 14 senators wrote to Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki in March and asked him to submit an application to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to trademark “GI Bill.”

“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,” the letter read.

The request was expedited in April when the president issued an executive order requiring the VA to follow through with the application and trademark the phrase. However, trademark protection was only the first step to permanently protecting the phrase “GI Bill,” as a trademark is not always permanent. The owner of a trademark must actively maintain protection by pursuing those who disregard the trademark; but if the trademark is not maintained, the protection expires. As a result, 13 U.S. Senators are asking for a more permanent solution in the form of a bill.

The GI Bill Protection Act of 2012 has been referred to the Senate’s Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and is currently awaiting consideration from committee chair Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) before it can be voted on by the Senate, House of Representatives and ultimately signed by the president to be enacted into law.

But the odds of the bill making it to the president’s desk are bleak. Just 3 percent of all bills introduced on the Senate floor in the 2009-2010 fiscal year were ultimately enacted, according to govtrack.us, and website voters predicted Friday the bill had only a 2 percent chance of passing the Senate.

THE DAILY NEWS

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