Attorney General Curtis Hill Tuesday joined a group of 52 attorneys general in urging the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) to automatically forgive the student loans of veterans who became totally and permanently disabled in connection with their military service.
Last year the DOE identified more than 42,000 veterans as eligible for student loan relief due to a service-related total and permanent disability. Fewer than 9,000 of those veterans had applied to have their loans discharged by April 2018 and more than 25,000 had student loans in default.
The letter calls on the DOE to develop a process to automatically discharge the student loans of veterans determined by the Department of Veterans Affairs to be eligible for such relief. While the automatic discharge process is in development, the letter proposes the DOE should halt debt collection efforts targeting disabled veterans and clear their credit reports of any negative reporting related to their student loans.
“The men and women who have risked their lives to serve our country deserve the best care because of their service,” Attorney General Hill said. “If a veteran is no longer able to pay their student loans due to a disability obtained while in service, they should under no circumstance be required to pay back student loans.”
Under federal law, the DOE is required to discharge the federal student loans of veterans determined by the Department of Veterans Affairs to be unemployable (or totally and permanently disabled) due to a service-connected condition. Although the DOE currently requires disabled veterans to take affirmative steps to apply for a loan discharge, those steps are not required by federal law.
The attorneys general note that the federal government has taken some steps to make it easier for eligible veterans to secure student loan relief. According to their letter, however, an automatic discharge process that gives individual veterans an opportunity to opt out for personal reasons “would eliminate unnecessary paperwork burdens and ensure that all eligible disabled veterans can receive a discharge.”
The letter supporting automatic student loan discharges for totally and permanently disabled veterans received support from enough attorneys general to become formal policy of the National Association of Attorneys General. This designation is reserved for letters and comments supported by at least 36 Attorneys General.
“Proposals for automatic discharges with opt-out rights have bipartisan support in Congress and among leading veterans’ advocacy organizations,” the letter states. The veterans groups supporting such proposals have included: Vietnam Veterans for America, Veterans Education Success, The Retired Enlisted Association, High Ground Advocacy, and Ivy League Veterans Council.
The letter closes by urging the DOE to “take action to better protect those who once protected the nation. Our veterans deserve nothing less."