COLUMBIA, S.C. — South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson joined a coalition encouraging the U.S. Department of Education to automatically forgive the student loans of veterans who became totally and permanently disabled in connection with their military service.
Wilson is one of 52 attorneys general that signed a letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos that was issued as the country prepared to honor fallen troops on Memorial Day.
“This is something our country should do to show its gratitude to veterans who’ve made tremendous sacrifices that left them totally and permanently disabled,” Wilson said in a news release. “We need to make the process of having their student loans forgiven automatic so it’s one less thing for them to worry about.”
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, which was led by New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes, calls on the department 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 department should halt debt collection efforts targeting disabled veterans, and clear their credit reports of any negative reporting related to their student loans.
The letter notes 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 attorneys general said in the letter.
The letter closes by urging the department to “take action to better protect those who once protected the nation. Our veterans deserve nothing less.”
Under federal law, the department 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 department currently requires disabled veterans to take affirmative steps to apply for a loan discharge, those steps are not required by law.
The department of education 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, however, and more than 25,000 had student loans in default.