April 17 (UPI) -- The U.S. Department of Education and Department of Veterans Affairs have partnered to notify eligible disabled veterans of student loan forgiveness.
The two departments announced Monday they will work together to identify disabled student loan borrowers who are eligible for debt forgiveness. Eligible veterans will then be sent a letter notifying them of their eligibility along with an application for total and permanent disability discharge, the method through which borrowers with physical impairments are approved to have their debt erased.
"Our nation's veterans have sacrificed much for our country. It is important that, in return, we do all we can to give them the support and care they deserve," U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said. Simplifying the loan forgiveness process and proactively identifying veterans with federal student loans who may be eligible for a discharge is a small but critical way we can show our gratitude for veterans' service."
The Department of Education and the Social Security Administration found 387,000 borrowers with disabilities -- who collectively owed more than $7.7 billion in federal student loans -- were eligible for TPD discharges in 2016. They sent out alert letters to the borrowers.
There are likely "tens of thousands" of disabled veterans who remain unaware that they qualify for student loan forgiveness, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau based on Department of Veterans Affairs data.
"It's horrific," Carrie Wofford, president of the non-profit advocacy group Veterans Education Success, told CNBC. "There are disabled veterans who served their country who are financially struggling -- and sometimes destitute -- who are legally entitled to have their student loans forgiven but it's not happening."
In addition to the program to notify eligible borrowers, a provision in the new tax code also waives federal income taxes on forgiven education debt for permanently disabled people.
"The hard work put into this important initiative by two large federal agencies for our veterans and their families is impressive in scope and further underscores VA's values," said acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie.