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Education Department changes disability standards

The U.S. Department of Education, in a bid to provide additional protection to student loan recipients who become disabled after attending college, has presented a revamped set of rules for borrowers. The new rules, which would significantly affect borrowers who receive Social Security Disability payments, could lower the financial burden placed on university graduates who are too injured or sick to work. That means that some Georgia SSD recipients could have their student loans discharged faster than before.

Under federal law, people who become severely disabled are not required to pay back their student loans. An audit conducted by an independent firm found, however, that a large group of disabled Americans were still buried under student debt. Proposed reform measures would provide added protection for borrowers by improving communication and expediting the loan discharge process.

People who have been fully disabled for at least five years qualify to have their loans discharged, according to a law passed in 2008.

The department failed to propose one of the most commonly supported measures, though; the borrowers' disability status will not be tied to their Social Security Disability application. That means that even if someone is receiving SSD payments, they may not qualify as a "disabled" individual under the Department of Education's definition.

Even though the department has made a significant move forward by proposing the new rules, advocates say that it is critical to consolidate the meaning of the term "disabled." Every government agency should have the same definition, which would permit organizations to speed financial relief to disabled individuals who need it the most.

Source: Oregon Public Broadcasting, "Education Department revamps broken disability review program," Sasha Chavkin, July 19, 2012

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