Veterans’ student loan debt is hindering them

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With 1.6 trillion dollars in student loan debt and rising, veterans are now more than ever at risk of not being able to purchase homes, not having children of their own due to increasing costs of living, going into default with existing loans, and having their credit scores affected. 

This can place undue burden and hardship on their mental health and well-being. Our veterans fought for their nation by risking their lives from basic combat training to discharge. Regardless of discharge type, they served their nation out of patriotism. 

Many veterans served in the armed forces to make a better life for themselves, their families, and their friends. Veterans should not have to be faced with the significant financial burden of student loan debt. To recognize their service to our nation and to assist them with any financial difficulties, I introduce the Veteran Health, Education, and Disabilities Act. 

Many veterans now have high-interest private loans and other interest loans to pay back. Veterans who are not granted a full percentage of the Post 9/11-GI Bill due to time in service are left to pay the remaining balances, if not granted scholarships, in full over time. If veterans wish to pursue more than four years of the Post 9/11-GI Bill, the remaining studies are at their full expense. Veterans may also need to take out loans to cover additional expenses while pursuing a degree. 

Veterans who are disabled at any percentage may have difficulties pursuing or continuing education because of PTSD or other mental health conditions, chronic back problems, hearing issues, sight issues, loss of limbs, and others as titled by the Department of Veterans Affairs in the rating schedule. 

Veterans who are currently 100 percent permanently disabled now have their student loans discharged 100 percent. President Trump recently expedited the discharge of these loans because past problems with the Department of Education’s slow processing times have caused undue hardship. As veterans’ conditions worsen from 0 percent to 100 percent over time, I encourage the Department of Education in cooperation with the Department of Veterans Affairs to discharge student loans at the rate of a current disability for all veterans.

This forgiveness program would give veterans a better financial situation and could improve their overall health and well-being, without having to choose between paying back significant school loans, purchasing a home, covering health care costs, paying their rent, having children, or living paycheck to paycheck. 

Although the financial cost of the loan forgiveness I am suggesting may seem cumbersome at first glance, the financial benefit will outweigh those initial costs in the long term. The result will be healthier and more content veterans, which will, in turn, allow them to participate more fully in our communities and our nation’s economy. 

They will be able to stimulate the economy and invest in things that would not otherwise be possible. Alleviating the student loan burden will reduce homelessness and suicide, along with improving poor nutritional habits, a few major topics VA and government are working to improve. With the increasing costs of living now and in the future, and with the questionable health of all veterans, they are deserving of more opportunities. We need to stand for those who have stood for all of us. 

Andrew Vernon is a former career employee at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and is a Veteran of the U.S. Army. Vernon is currently the founder and president of Andrew Vernon & Associates, an organization dedicated to supporting veterans and their families. He holds a Master of Health Administration from the Columbia University Joseph L. Mailman School of Public Health and a Master of Education from the University of Maine. 

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