Ahead of Memorial Day, 47 states urge federal government to pay disabled veterans’ student loans

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States across the nation are calling on the federal government to forgive student loans issued to American veterans, a figure currently topping $1 billion.

Attorneys general from 47 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and three U.S. territories formally asked Education Secretary Betsy DeVos in a letter about simplifying the process to obtain the loan discharges, making it so that veterans who became permanently disabled while serving in the military could be automatically forgiven the debt.

“As a nation, we have a moral obligation to assist those who have put their lives on the line to defend us,” the letter dated on Friday read.

More than 42,000 disabled veterans are burdened by the crushing student loans and the new effort, led by New Jersey Democrat Gurbir Grewal and Utah Republican Sean Reyes, seeks to automate the process rather than require applications for discharges.

The Education Department “continues to require eligible veterans to take affirmative steps to secure the loan forgiveness that is their statutory right,” the letter stated. “And the requirements imposed by the Department may prove insurmountable obstacles to relief for many eligible veterans due to the severe nature of their disabilities.”

As of April 2018, fewer than 9,000 eligible veterans had applied for total and permanent disability (TPD) discharges and more than 25,000 veterans were in default on their loans, the attorneys general noted, contending that the “current approach is inadequate.”

“The cost of education for our disabled veterans today is soaring, and it would be of great benefit to those who are burdened by these crushing debts to obtain relief without arduous compliance requirements,” the letter continued.

The Department of Education responded in a statement, saying it did not want to cause “unintended consequences” for the veterans who had already sacrificed so much for their country. However, the Department cautioned that the veterans needed to be well-informed about their decisions and the effect of the discharges on their taxes as well as future loan needs.

“While ‘automatic discharge’ may seem like a simple solution, there are long-term impacts we want all veterans to have the chance to consider before their loans are discharged,” Department of Education spokesperson Elizabeth Hill said in a statement, according to Politico.

“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,” she added.

But the letter, which was signed by attorneys general for every state except Alabama, Arizona and Texas, addressed the tax issue, noting that federal and most state tax laws do not include as taxable income any loan discharges for disabled borrowers.

“As Attorneys General, we understand the difficulties faced by our residents who struggle to manage their student loan debt. Those difficulties are only compounded for veterans and others who are suffering from a total and permanent disability,” the letter, released as the nation prepares to honor fallen military members on Memorial Day, continued.

“We now urge the Department to take action to better protect those who once protected the nation,” it concluded. “Our veterans deserve nothing less.”

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