Federal Student Loans: A Guide to Disability Discharge for People with Cancer

Student Loan Disability Discharge for Cancer Patients
This page was originally published September 21, 2023 and updated June 12, 2024.

With student loan payments resuming, we thought it a good time to cover the U.S Department of Education discharge options. If you’re battling cancer and are also burdened with student loans, it’s essential to know that you’re not alone. There’s a silver lining for you amidst the clouds – a provision called Total and Permanent Disability Discharge (TPD). This provision allows you to have your federal student loan discharged, meaning you’re no longer required to make payments. But how do you navigate this process? Let’s walk you through it step by step.

What is a Disability Discharge?

Before anything else, it’s crucial to understand what a total and permanent disability discharge is. As per the U.S Department of Education, if you are totally and permanently disabled, you may qualify for a total and permanent disability (TPD) discharge of your federal student loans. If approved, you won’t have to repay these loans.

In essence, a disability discharge is a provision by the U.S Department of Education designed to give relief to those who are permanently and totally disabled, such as cancer patients like yourself. It’s an opportunity to have your federal student loans completely discharged, effectively erasing your debt. This means that you can put your focus where it’s needed most – on your health and well-being – rather than on loan repayments.

Being totally and permanently disabled doesn’t only refer to physical disability. It also includes certain specific conditions, such as a diagnosis of an illness that could result in death or has lasted or is expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 60 months. If you’re facing a situation like this, you might qualify for a total and permanent disability discharge. Now, what does ‘discharge’ mean in this context? Quite simply, to discharge a loan means to cancel it. You’re no longer required to make payments on a discharged loan. Imagine the weight lifted off your shoulders if you didn’t have to worry about those hefty student loan payments anymore.

Who Qualifies for a Disability Discharge?

While the prospect of having your student loans discharged can seem like a distant dream come true, it’s important to understand the eligibility criteria that govern this provision. Not everyone qualifies for a Disability Discharge, and there are specific criteria that must be met in order to apply. Let’s delve into who can benefit from this life-changing option and what the eligibility requirements are.

The first step is to ascertain your eligibility. As a cancer patient, you could be eligible for a TPD discharge if you can provide certification from your physician that you are unable to engage in substantial gainful activity due to a physical or mental impairment that:

  1. Can be expected to result in death.
  2. Has lasted for a continuous period of not less than 60 months.
  3. Can be expected to last for a continuous period of not less than 60 months.

In addition to the above conditions, there are eligibility criteria related to the types of loans that can be discharged. The following types of student loans are eligible for TPD discharge:

  1. William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan (Direct Loan) Program loans.
  2. Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL) Program loans.
  3. Federal Perkins Loans.
  4. TEACH Grant service obligations.

Furthermore, veterans may also qualify for a TPD discharge. If you’re a veteran, you can submit documentation from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) showing that the VA has determined that you are unemployable due to a service-connected disability.

For individuals who are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, you can submit a Social Security Administration (SSA) notice of award for SSDI or SSI benefits stating that your next scheduled disability review will be within 5 to 7 years from the date of your most recent SSA disability determination.

Bear in mind that each case is reviewed individually, and the final decision rests with the U.S Department of Education. It is strongly recommended to consult with a professional or counselor to understand your position better and gather all the relevant documents before applying for a disability discharge.

Documentation Required

Documentation is crucial in this process. You need to secure a physician’s certification or documentation from the Department of Veterans Affairs or Social Security Administration. Once you have your documentation in order, it’s time to apply. You can do this by submitting a TPD discharge application to Nelnet, the servicer that assists the U.S Department of Education in managing the TPD discharge process. Let’s take a closer look at the critical documents required for a TPD discharge application:

  1. Physician’s Certification: This must be from a doctor of medicine (M.D.) or a doctor of osteopathy (D.O.), who confirms your total and permanent disability. The certification must include the doctor’s license number, the state where the doctor’s license was issued, and the date of the certification.
  2. VA Documentation: Veterans need to provide documentation from the Department of Veterans Affairs. The document must show that the VA has determined you to be unemployable due to a service-connected disability.
  3. SSA Documentation: If you are receiving SSDI or SSI benefits, you need to submit the SSA notice of award for these benefits. This award notice must state that your next scheduled disability review will be within 5 to 7 years from the date of your most recent SSA disability determination.
  4. Proof of Federal Student Loans or TEACH Grant Service Obligations: You must provide documents that show you have a loan or a TEACH Grant service obligation that qualifies for a TPD discharge. These could include statements from your loan servicer, a TEACH Grant Agreement to Serve, or other proof of the loan or grant.
  5. TPD Discharge Application: Lastly, you will need to fill out and submit the TPD discharge application. The application has sections for your personal information, your representative (if you have one), and your physician or the VA.

Remember, providing accurate and comprehensive documentation expedites the process and enhances the likelihood of your application being successful. Be sure to keep copies of every document you submit for your records and follow up with Nelnet to ensure they received your application. If approved, the Department of Education will contact your loan holders and instruct them to discharge your loans.

Where and How to Submit Your Application

Submitting your application correctly is crucial to the success of your Total and Permanent Disability Discharge process. Here’s how you can do that:

Submitting Your Application

Once you have gathered all the necessary documentation, you are ready to submit your application. You have two options: you can either submit it online or by mail.

Online Submission

If you choose to submit your application online, visit the Total and Permanent Disability Discharge website. You will need to create an account if this is your first time using the site. After logging in, you can fill out the application form online. Make sure to attach all the required documents. Remember to save a copy of your completed application for your records.

Mail, Fax, and Email Submission

Alternatively, if you prefer to submit your application by mail, you must first download the application form from the Total and Permanent Disability Discharge website. Print it, fill it out, attach all your required documents, and mail it to:

U.S. Department of Education P.O. Box 87130 Lincoln, NE 68501-7130

Fax your application and supporting documentation to 303.696.5250.

Email your application and supporting documentation to DisabilityInformation@Nelnet.net.

Whether you submit your application online or by mail, fax, or email, make sure all your information is accurate and complete. After submitting your application, Nelnet will contact you within 30 days to inform you if your application was complete or if there were any issues that need to be addressed.

Keep yourself updated on the status of your application by regularly checking your account on the Total and Permanent Disability Discharge website or by contacting Nelnet directly. It is essential to respond promptly to any inquiries or additional documentation requests from Nelnet to prevent your application from being denied.

Remember, the process of obtaining a Total and Permanent Disability Discharge can be complex and time-consuming, but your efforts could result in a significant financial relief. So, take your time, follow these steps carefully, and don’t hesitate to seek help if you need it. Once your application is under review, loan payments are put on hold. If your application is approved, your loans will be discharged, and you’ll receive a monitoring period of three years.

Once You’re Approved for Discharge

Post-approval, the Department of Education initiates a 3-year post-discharge monitoring period. This period begins on the date the discharge is approved. During this time, certain rules apply:

  1. Income Monitoring: If you received a TPD discharge based on the physician’s certification, you’ll be required to submit an annual income documentation. This is to verify that your annual earnings from employment do not exceed the Poverty Guideline amount for a family of two in your state, irrespective of your actual family size.
  2. Disability Status Monitoring: If your health situation improves significantly during the monitoring period, you may be obligated to repay your loans. The Department will reinstate the loans if you no longer meet the definition of total and permanent disability.
  3. Loan Status Monitoring: If you receive a new Direct Loan, Perkins Loan, or TEACH Grant during the monitoring period, the Department will also reinstate your prior loans.

At the conclusion of the 3-year post-discharge monitoring period, if you meet all requirements, the Department of Education will notify you that your loans have been finally discharged. Conversely, if you do not meet the requirements during the monitoring period, your loans might be reinstated, and you will be responsible for repayment. It’s crucial to stay in regular contact with Nelnet and comply with all the rules during this period to ensure the successful discharge of your loans.

Get Free Help With Your Student Loan Discharge

If you need assistance with the disability discharge process, HELPS Nonprofit Law Center may be able to help you. HELPS serves disabled persons struggling with student loan debt. HELPS never turns away a qualified disabled person who needs help and assists with the federal student loan disability discharge program. Please call HELPS 855-435-7787 or visit their website at www.helpsihere.org for assistance.

Summary & Next Steps

As you navigate your journey with cancer, remember that there are provisions to ease your financial burden. Disability discharge can be a significant relief when grappling with student debt. By understanding the process and ensuring your documentation is in order, you can avail yourself of this benefit and focus on your health and recovery. Keep all your documents organized and accessible, respond swiftly to any requests from Nelnet, and stay informed about the status of your application.

Once your application is approved, the subsequent three-year monitoring period demands your continued attention. Remain aware of your income, health status, and any potential new loans or grants. If you adhere to these guidelines and fulfill the requirements, there’s a good chance your loans will be permanently discharged at the end of the monitoring period.

This is not just about relieving financial stress, but also allowing you to focus on your health and wellbeing. The process may seem daunting, but the potential benefits can outweigh the challenges. Remember, you’re not alone in this journey, and assistance is available should you need it. Through understanding and action, you can turn the possibility of a Total and Permanent Disability Discharge into a reality.

More Help for Cancer Patients and Families

For an all-inclusive guide to aid available from financial resources to emotional support, we encourage you to explore our extensive catalog featuring more than 350 free offerings, all tailored for cancer patients in the USA. This directory encompasses a range of services from financial assistance initiatives to complimentary programs specifically catering to the distinct requirements of individuals receiving cancer treatment. Our objective, by compiling these resources, is to offer a comprehensive solution for those fighting cancer and their supportive network. These resources offer not only monetary support but also emotional backing, pragmatic assistance, and most importantly, a beacon of hope during challenging times. Please pass on this priceless resource to anyone who might find it beneficial. ❤️

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