Opinion: Disabled veterans freed from federal student loan debt

Betsy DeVos and Robert L. Wilkie

President Donald Trump recently took bold steps to automatically discharge qualifying federal student loan debt for totally and permanently disabled veterans.

In this Dec. 18, 2018, file photo, President Donald Trump listens as Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks during a roundtable discussion on the Federal Commission on School Safety report.

When lawmakers passed the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act, the law authorized the Department of Education to discharge federal student loan debt for these brave and battered veterans.

But this benefit was not well-publicized. And, until we took action last year, veterans had to wade through a complicated application process in order to receive relief, and too few did. Many veterans couldn’t manage the process while coping with the unique challenges they face due to their disabilities. Others ended up pursuing other loan forgiveness programs.

That’s a disgrace to the men and women who not only wore the uniform and fought for their country, but now have total and permanent disabilities as a result of their service. These wounded warriors are already coping with life-changing injuries, and for many, giving them access to a benefit wrapped in a confusing ball of red tape was like giving them no benefit at all.

We are taking action to correct this problem. The Department of Education and the Department of Veterans Affairs started working together to inform totally and permanently disabled veterans of their eligibility for federal student loan discharge and to invite them to take advantage of this crucial benefit. Still, more than a year into our new process, fewer than half of the 50,000 eligible veterans have applied for relief. 

That’s why Trump moved to simplify the government maze.

A new presidential memorandum directs the Department of Education to develop a process, using disability determinations from the Department of Veterans Affairs, to automatically discharge disabled veterans’ qualifying federal student loans. Veterans still have the right to decline automatic discharge of their qualifying federal loans. But these veterans will have no more applications, no more paperwork and no more federal student loan debt.

This proactive approach means these heroes and their families won’t have to face hundreds of millions of dollars in financial obligations. That’s an enormous amount of relief that will make a real change in the lives of these American patriots and their families.

This approach means more than just the delivery of a decade-old promise for veterans and their families. It means empowering these heroes to focus on their lives, not loan payments nor jumping through any more government hoops.

It also sends an important signal to the men and women who bravely join our armed forces. It tells them that their government will hold up its end of the bargain for those who give so much to our nation, and it will make sure nothing stands in the way of them getting the benefits they deserve.

And, it shows that this president and his administration are committed to making sure the federal government honors America’s veterans.

Betsy DeVos is secretary of education and Robert L. Wilkie is secretary of Veterans Affairs. They wrote this for InsideSources.com.