A group of bipartisan attorneys general from 51 states and territories on Friday wrote to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urging the Department of Education automatically forgive the student loan debt of eligible veterans who became disabled through their military service.
"We write, as the Attorneys General of our jurisdictions, to urge the Department of Education to take prompt action to satisfy its statutory mandate to discharge the student loans of veterans who are permanently and totally disabled or otherwise unemployable," the letter says. "As a nation, we have a moral obligation to assist those who have put their lives on the line to defend us."
While the student loans of disabled veterans are required to be discharged by law when they make the request, the letter asks DeVos to make the loan discharges automatic, stating the current requirements to secure loan forgiveness "may prove insurmountable obstacles to relief for many eligible veterans due to the severe nature of their disabilities."
The letter, which was also signed by attorneys general from three US territories and the District of Columbia, says just 9,000 of 42,000 eligible veterans applied for student loan forgiveness as of April 2018.
"Forgiving their school loans is the least we can do to recognize their service and sacrifice," Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes said in a statement about the letter. "These veterans have suffered permanent and total disability as a direct result of their service to our country. They and their families have sacrificed health, quality of life, and often their dreams for the future. Many have lost their ability to work and pay off any school debt."
In a statement to Reuters Friday, the Department of Education pushed back on the letter, saying, "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."
The department told Reuters they wanted veterans to be aware that loan "discharges might boost their tax bills or make it harder to borrow for education later."
Despite this, the attorneys general touted bipartisan congressional support for the measure as well as backing from multiple veteran advocacy groups.
"We now urge the department to take action to better protect those who once protected the nation," they wrote in the letter. "Our veterans deserve nothing less."