President Donald Trump announced Wednesday that his administration will expedite the process for forgiving the federal student loan debt of eligible disabled veterans.
During an address to the 75th convention of AMVETS in Louisville, Kentucky, Trump signed a directive ordering the Department of Education to "eliminate every penny of federal student loan debt owed by American veterans who are completely and permanently disabled."
The memorandum directs the Departments of Education and Veterans Affairs to ease the cumbersome application process for an existing program, the Total and Permanent Disability Discharge program.
"I am taking executive action to ensure that our wounded warriors are not saddled with student debt," Trump said. "Altogether, this action will wipe out an average of $30,000 in debt owed by more than 25,000 eligible veterans."
The Higher Education Act of 1965 and the Higher Education Act of 2008 discharged the student loan debt for totally and permanently disabled veterans.
But applying for the program is complex, requiring the Departments of Veterans Affairs and Education to share data to determine who is eligible; the Education Department to send a preliminary application to eligible veterans; and veterans to furnish proof of their eligibility.
Of 42,000 eligible veterans, fewer than half have accessed the program, prompting veterans service organizations, such as Vietnam Veterans of America, Veterans Education Success and the Retired Enlisted Association, to push for an easier process.
The new memo directs the "Secretaries of Education and Veterans Affairs to develop a new expedited process to help totally and permanently disabled veterans have their federal student loan debt discharged with 'minimal burdens,'" according to the White House.
In May, 47 state attorneys general wrote Education Secretary Betsy DeVos urging the department to automatically forgive the student loans for veterans determined to be unemployable or totally and permanently disabled by a service-connected condition.
They urged the DOE to develop a process to automatically discharge the student loans for eligible veterans, eliminating the paperwork burden for them.
Trump's directive is aimed at doing just that, he said.
"After years of neglect, we are fixing the heartbreaking failures from the last administration at the Department of Veterans Affairs. America must never abandon our heroes in their hour of need," he said.
Trump said that, in addition to improving the process, the directive cancels out any federal income tax on the debt, and he is asking states to waive state taxes on the debt.
"This is an amazing relief on my family, as well as I know, many thousands of veterans," said Cassell, a student at the University of Nevada who deployed twice to Iraq.
Veterans like Cassell should not be asked to pay any more for their service, Trump said.
"It is America who owes our heroes a supreme debt of gratitude," he said.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.