The USO may not have followed proper procedures in using the image of the Purple Heart for its fundraising campaigns.
And organization officials will no longer use the image of the Purple Heart medal in fundraising mailings of personalized return address labels, said USO spokeswoman Gayle Fishel.
"Images of all military medals and decorations are protected marks of the Department of Defense or a respective service," said DoD spokesman Air Force Maj. Ben Sakrisson. "Prior to using any image of a military medal or decoration, government agencies, organizations or individuals must request and receive permission to use the image."
A DoD official said the department has no record of the USO contacting the Army Institute of Heraldry or the Army Trademark and Licensing Program Office for permission to use the image of the Purple Heart Medal in its fundraising materials, which included the address labels with the image imprinted.
The USO will stop using those particular labels, Fishel said: "We've been in touch with the DoD and the Army Institute of Heraldry to let them know we decided to discontinue the use of the Purple Heart image in future mailings of return address labels."
Defense officials did not criticize the USO, noting that the organization does many good things for service members, and that USO may not have understood how the images would be received, or that they are not in the public domain.
The issue arose, and DoD was made aware, when an Army veteran complained to Military Times that the USO's use of the Purple Heart image on these address labels creates a misleading impression about the award given to service members wounded in combat.
In a letter to Military Times, Robert W. Tucker Jr., a disabled veteran who served in the Army for 12 years and left as a staff sergeant in 1994, said he received the personalized labels in April. "It makes it appear that I have a Purple Heart medal. I DO NOT have one!" he wrote.
Upon subsequently learning of DoD's policies regarding the use of images of medals, Tucker told Military Times: "I'm happy DoD has made that statement. USO does a lot of good things, but when they're wrong, they're wrong, and they need to be corrected."
Fishel said the USO located a certified letter Tucker sent to them, complaining about the use of the Purple Heart image. "J.D. Crouch II, CEO and President of the USO has sent a personal letter to Mr. Tucker letting him know that we are no longer using the Purple Heart image in future mailings of return address labels."
When the U.S. Postal Service was developing its Purple Heart postage stamp, it asked for permission from the Defense Department to use the image, Sakrisson said.
The Military Order of the Purple Heart has permission from the Army Institute of Heraldry to use the medal image in multiple ways, to include signs in each state marking the Purple Heart Trail, said John Bircher, spokesman for the organization, which is a congressionally chartered veterans service organization.
MOPH owns the copyright to the use of the words "Purple Heart" for fundraising purposes, he said.
When the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation sends a fundraising mailing using personalized address labels, only Purple Heart recipients get labels with the medal image, Bircher said.
If a government agency, organization or individual wants to use an image of a medal or decoration on an item they must contact: Director, Army Trademark Licensing Program, OASA (M&RA) Hoffman II (9S31), 200 Stovall St., Alexandria, VA 22230.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.