The Defense Department says it is not bearing down on veterans groups that may be violating or irresponsibly replicating DoD insignia and seals, aside from recent reports.
The United Veterans Council of Santa Clara County said officials received a cease and desist order after the group used official seals on a flier during a Memorial Day commemoration ceremony, according to a letter written by Rep. Zoe Lofgren's office.
The local veterans group reached out to Lofgren, a California Democrat, and the statement has gotten the attention of more than a dozen other congressional members who, with Lofgren, have requested that the Defense Department grant a "one-time waiver" for all nonprofit veterans groups to use official seals for the remainder of 2015.
"The department has not sent, nor does it plan to send, formal cease-and-desist letters to any organization regarding unauthorized use of military departmental seals," Allen said in an email Tuesday.
Allen said the department has instead sent multiple correspondence to educate the public on the proper use of official military symbols.
Several emails obtained by Military Times indicate otherwise.
Messages sent from the Pentagon to Francis McVey, UVC's president, over the the Memorial Day commemoration flier say: "We request that UVC promptly withdraw and cease use of this flyer. The UVC also should cease use of these Armed Services seals in the future."
A House aide told Military Times that the members are not aware of how many letters went out, but that DoD officials confirmed they have sent these letters to veterans groups all over the country.
"It is difficult to understand the legal basis, never mind the logic of the DoD threatening any non-profit veterans group with trademark liability for using official seals to honor our nation's veterans," the congressional letter says, pointing out that the UVC group has used the seals for over 97 years.
"The main concern is that the DoD response is heavy-handed and disrespectful to the men and women who fought for our country and wish to display military seals in honor of their service — not to mention legally wrong to boot," the House aide added.
Allen said DoD implied no malice, and that officials will reply to the congressional letter "in the near future."
"There are instances when use of military marks (EXCLUDING official military seals) is appropriate and may be authorized," Allen said.
"Military services consider use of their emblem, symbol, or coat of arms by non-federal organizations on a case-by-case basis. However, there are also situations where use is not appropriate, such as when a false impression of DoD affiliation or endorsement is created, or when use is purely to benefit the commercial interests of a for-profit business."
According to the Defense Department's recently updated trademark guidelines, when the DoD seal or military service insignia are used without permission, "the Department(s) may take appropriate action upon notification."
Allen said DoD does not have a firm number for those who may be inappropriately using protected marks.
"The creation of non-Federal logos which incorporate any of the Military Service marks is prohibited," the guideline says, citing the rules outlined in the Lanham Act, or the Trademark Act of 1946.
"Other trademark licensing laws and regulations also exist that give the DoD, each Military Service, and other DoD Components authorization to protect and license their names, insignia, seals, symbols, phrases, and similar identifiers," it says.
Under those provisions, seals and insignia can be used only in an official capacity, and can only be created by military service-approved vendors; replicated images cannot be altered in any way.