Student loan debt owed by many disabled veterans to be erased under Trump directive

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - AUGUST 21: President Donald Trump signs a proclamation that will eliminate student loan debt for qualifying disabled veterans following a speech at the American Veterans (AMVETS) 75th National Convention at the Galt House on August 21, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. AMVETS is a non-partisan, volunteer-led veterans advocacy organization that was formed by World War II veterans. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he will sign an executive action making student loan cancellation for disabled veterans automatic — about three months after 51 attorneys general urged the Department of Education to make the change.

“It is America who owes our heroes an extreme debt of gratitude,” Trump said, speaking at an American Veterans conference in Louisville, Kentucky.

He thanked Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, who was present, for helping to implement a policy he joked that “nobody can complain about.”

Current law says that the government will discharge the student debt for any borrower who is “permanently and totally” disabled, but they had to submit an application.

In a letter sent to DeVos in May, the attorneys general called this approach “inadequate.” They found that just 9,000 of 42,000 eligible veterans had applied for the loan discharge as of April 2018. More than 25,000 of those service members were in default on their loan payments, the letter said.

The Department of Education said it would begin by notifying 25,000 eligible veterans. Veterans may have to pay taxes on the canceled debt, and will have 60 days to opt to decline the discharge after being notified.

In April 2018, the agency established a data matching process with the Department of Veterans Affairs to help make it easier for those applying for cancellation. Since then, more than $650 million in student loan relief was granted to more than 22,000 eligible veterans, the Department of Education said in a statement Wednesday.

During his speech, Trump also highlighted the steps his administration has taken to address veterans issues.

“One of the things we have done is you get that medical care quickly now,” Trump said. “You used to have to wait weeks and weeks and weeks and you don’t wait anymore.”

“People are really happy about it,” he added, referring to his support of veterans’ choice — a policy he signed into law last year that allows veterans to seek VA-funded care in the private sector under certain circumstances.

The President also touted his support of the VA Accountability Act, which he signed in 2017, and his administration’s efforts to address veterans’ suicide.

“After years of neglect, we’re fixing the heartbreaking failures from the last administration at the Department of Veterans Affairs,” he said. “America must never abandon their heroes at their hour of need.”

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