Utah’s Reyes and his fellow attorneys general want disabled veterans to have their student loans forgiven automatically

On the eve of the Memorial Day weekend, state attorneys general from across the country joined a petition seeking student loan forgiveness for military veterans with total and permanent disabilities.

The letter to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos requests that the student loans of more than 30,000 disabled vets be automatically discharged without going through an application process that relatively few have used.

Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes co-sponsored the National Association of Attorneys General petition with New Jersey A.G. Gurbir Grewal.

Grewal, a Democrat, “was looking at this issue and wanted to make it bipartisan," said Rich Piatt, spokesman for Reyes, a Republican. "He reached out to Sean, and Sean looked at it and embraced it.”

Fifty-two of the 56 attorneys general (including U.S. territories) signed onto the letter publicly released Friday.

Discharge of student loans for these disabled vets was authorized by Congress 11 years ago, but the Education Department adopted rules requiring application.

“Forgiving their school loans is the least we can do to recognize their service and sacrifice,” Reyes said in a prepared statement. “These veterans have suffered permanent and total disability as a direct result of their service to our country."

Under the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, veterans rendered permanently and totally disabled as a result of their service are entitled to have their loans discharged. But while more than 42,000 veterans as of last year were eligible for total and permanent disability discharges, fewer than 9,000 had completed the application.

More than 25,000 are in default.

“Collectively, these veterans carry over $1 billion in dischargeable student loan debt — nearly $24,000 each on average,” the letter to DeVos states.

An Education Department spokesman did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment.

Reyes’ chief civil deputy, Brian Tarbet, is retired as a major general and the adjutant general of the Utah National Guard. He pointed to the many Utah veterans who suffer total and permanent disabilities, adding “discharging their student loan debt is simply the right thing to do.”

“I personally know of military families in this situation who could benefit from this kind of assistance but would never ask for it,” Target said. “Let’s make it easier on them to make a better life for themselves after the life-changing sacrifices they made.”

The large number of those defaulting and the relatively low number of those who have completed applications shows the current system isn’t working as intended, the attorneys general said.

“This approach would eliminate unnecessary paperwork burdens and ensure that all eligible disabled veterans can receive a discharge," the letter continued. “And while the Department develops this process, it should halt collection efforts against disabled veterans and clear their credit reports of negative reporting related to their student loans.”

The proposed automatic discharge does include an opt-out for those who fear it would cost them more in taxes, although federal tax law excludes taxing this benefit — as do most states.

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