LOS ANGELES – San Diego-based fashion label Veteran Clothing incorporates military themes into its items, along with the tag line "Salute Me." But the company's founders are not military veterans or in any way affiliated with the U.S. armed forces, nor do they donate any proceeds from the clothing line to veterans groups. That revelation has infuriated veterans across the country, who say the label is misleading consumers and trading on the term "veteran" for profit.
"It's not so much use of the name itself but the context in which it is used. The way the company presents itself leads people to believe they are either veteran owned/operated or are affiliated with a veterans organization. Yes, we understand the dictionary definition of 'veteran,' but in America when someone asks if you are a veteran, it is assumed you are asking if they have served in the military," Bulldog1, one of the founders of GuardianofValor.com, a site run by soldiers and veterans seeking to expose those who falsely claim military allegiance, told FOX411's Pop Tarts column. "To a lot of veterans it is blatantly deceitful advertising, and they are using that for personal gain."
Veteran Clothing was founded in 2011 by clothing designer Billy Truong. Despite no military connection, the Veteran Clothing collection features an array of items with military inspiration, including Purple Hearts, models saluting military style, and a large hand in salute printed on some items. The company's Tumblr page infuses clothing pictures with party promotions, referring to themselves as "The VETS." An additional community Facebook page about the company also calls themselves the "VET SQUAD."
"Even though Mr. Truong says he is not using the Veteran name for personal gain, how does he explain this Purple Heart shirt he is promoting by showing it in front of a Vietnam Veteran who actually earned the award? I'm sure these shirts are not only available to Purple Heart holders," the GuardianofValor.com founder continued. "It was no accident that the release date for the clothing line was 11.11.11, Veterans Day."
According to the label's website, Veteran Clothing was formed by Billy Truong in 2011 "to provide street wear apparel and accessories."
"You've been in the game for infinite years. Everyone Respects You. No more fancy handshakes, stay saluting. Remember, you can be a Veteran in anything," reads the site.
Veteran Clothing did not respond to a request for comment, but they did answer questions on their Facebook page from others curious to know the meaning behind the "veteran" title.
"Mr. Truong, CEO of Veteran Clothing, was never in the military. Although he does consider himself as a Veteran in the business industry & dance field. His ideal of the term 'Veteran' is not only towards the Military."
Veterans Clothing also posted a "letter of apology and intent" on their Facebook page, stating that the company's intention was to reach males and females 16-24, and verifying that their definition of a Veteran is simply "one who has experience and mastered his or her own game/field."
"Though we may have made mistakes with slogans and items of clothing that references U.S. military please rest assure that those mistakes won't happen again," read the statement. "We have never mentioned any affiliation or reference to the United States Military or any of its relating departments... We have not broken any laws, whether they are state or federal."
The posted apology may not be enough for scores of veterans who have expressed their disgust on the company's Facebook page.
"Only a sleaze bag would twist the meaning of 'veteran' for personal profit," one outraged person wrote, while another questioned how much the clothing creators really know about the "sacrifices made by people that wear the title 'Veteran'" and the "hardship, training, time away from loved ones that they will never get back."
"It might just be a name to you, but I am concerned losers will still buy their merchandise. To us REAL veterans who served, that 'name' means something," one other upset viewer wrote. "Of course the losers who buy this merchandise are too clueless to get it! How about signing an enlistment contract and getting a friggin clue?"