Attorney generals from 47 states, the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories have asked Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to forgive disabled veterans' student loans. In a letter sent to the Department of Education head days before the Memorial Day holiday, 51 attorney generals proposed making the agency's current loan forgiveness program automatic for identified eligible veterans.
"We write, as the Attorneys General of our jurisdictions, to urge the Department of Education to take prompt action to satisfy its statutory mandate to discharge the student loans of veterans who are permanently and totally disabled or otherwise unemployable," a letter to DeVos from the National Association of Attorney Generals (NAAG) read. "As a nation, we have a moral obligation to assist those who have put their lives on the line to defend us."
While the attorney generals applauded recent government efforts to make it easier for disabled veteran to obtain loan forgiveness, they alleged that the Department of Education was continuing to require taxing "affirmative steps" from eligible veterans. "The requirements imposed by the Department may prove insurmountable obstacles to relief for many eligible veterans due to the severe nature of their disabilities," they wrote.
Bustle has reached out to the Department of Education for comment.
According to the NAAG, more than 42,000 veterans — carrying a collective student loan debt of more than $1 billion — have been identified by the Department of Education as being eligible for total and permanent disability (TPD) loan discharges. However, NAAG claims that, as of April 2018, fewer than 9,000 of these eligible veterans have applied for TPD discharges while more than 25,000 of them were in default on their loans. "These initial numbers tend to confirm that the current approach is inadequate," they wrote in their letter to DeVos.
As a solution, they asked DeVos and the Department of Education to develop an automatic loan discharge process which would ensure all eligible veterans can have their student loan debt forgiven as was promised in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008. Under the current program, veterans have to apply to have their loans discharged, NPR has reported.
"As a nation, we have a moral obligation to assist those who have put their lives on the line to defend us," NAAG said in its letter to DeVos. "There is no statutory or legal requirement that the Department of Education demand that eligible veterans affirmatively apply for TPD discharges before the Department will forgive their loans. To the contrary, the Higher Education Act makes clear that the Department's primary obligation is to provide relief to eligible individuals."
In a statement to NPR, the Department of Education said it had taken efforts to "streamline" the process of forgiving student loans for eligible veterans as it recognizes the sacrifices they make. "While we have worked to make this process as easy and as seamless as possible for veterans, the last thing we want to do is cause unintended consequences for them," NPR reported the agency said.