I feel a rush of excitement when the mail arrives, that breathless moment while I sort through the stack and see if I have received anything. Meaning me, like, as a person. Not me the consumer, not me the potential money-maker, not me the health care patient, but me – Kim. And there it is, an envelope addressed to me that I don’t recognize. Hey, I got mail!
I open it and read:
The U.S. Department of Education has received documentation from the Social Security Administration (SSA) showing that you may be eligible for a Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) discharge of your federal student loans. TPD discharge means that the remaining balance of your loans would be forgiven and you would not be required to make further payments.
My responses include:
#1 Screw you! I don’t need any help. I’m fine!
#2 So close! I am so damn close to paying off my student loans! Arrrrggg.
#3 Practical self – hmmm, I need to open-mindedly consider this opportunity. Anything that can free up funds to pay for uncovered mTBI medical treatments is worth pursuing.
I am surprised and not surprised to hear from the Department of Education. I had heard there was some program out there that could discharge my student loan debt. I’ve had my student loans in forebearance for the last several years because of my injury, but as debts go they don’t loom over me or cause me to lose any sleep at night. After several decades of paying on my student loans, here is what I have left to pay:
$1800. That’s it. 1800 frikkin dollars. That I have been so so SO looking forward to paying off completely. Because I am so close. And it would offer such deep and wonderful personal satisfaction to finish paying off my student loans, 23 years after I began college. An action worthy of pride.
And it would have already happened if I hadn’t been injured. I had planned to have them paid off completely by the time I was 40 (a year ago). My mTBI said no! My practicality (and perhaps my pragmatic partner) said if I don’t have enough money to pay my mortgage or my heat, now is not the time to pay a non-essential bill. So, I haven’t and I still have student loans.
And now this opportunity.
As I read further, I find out why they contacted me.
Two months ago, when I received my Social Security Award notice, at the very end of the letter there was a section titled “Things to Remember for the Future”. That’s where they told me when they would next review my case.
Referring to the helpful pamphlet provided by SSA for those receiving SSDI, the review times are such:
- Medical improvement expected – if your condition is expected to improve within a specific time, your first review will be six to 18 months after you started getting disability benefits
- Improvement possible – if improvement in your medical condition is possible, your case will be reviewed about every three years
- Improvement not expected – if your medical condition is unlikely to improve, your case will be reviewed only about once every five or seven years.
Guess what mine said?
Of course, at that time, I had my usual responses to a suggestion that I am actually disabled and might be for a long time.
#1 This is bullshit – I’m fine!
#2 I’ll be back at work soon (next month, in six months, in a year).
Note here that reality has made me realize… yah, it’s going to be a long while before I can work full time again… if I ever can.
#3 Practical self – this is great. Now I can really focus on my healing and not have to worry about government beaurocracy for a while.
But back to our story. So, apparently, one way to qualify for a Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) discharge of my student loans is to get a letter from the SSA that – because they think I’m so fucked up and so unfuckinglikely to recover – they’ll review my case in 5-7 years. Look at that. I got one of those. And I didn’t even have to try.
Fuck you world.
I’d like to reject the offer outright, but the universe dropped this opportunity into my lap and waved a sign – pay attention! So I do. Should I pursue discharging my loans? It seems kind of foolish to go through such a process for $1800… but that’s the cost of one new type of non-FDA-approved mTBI treatment. Generally you need $1500-$2000 to even start the conversation on that front. So, really, should I give myself one more opportunity to find some miracle cure that probably doesn’t exist? Or, I suppose, one more opportunity to try a new treatment that could change my life and perhaps create some improvement, even though I likely won’t ever be my old self?
My pride says no. But, it is a quiet no. After three years of failing, of having to ask for help, of now being on a government program to financially survive… my pride is use to being set aside in the face of other realities. Sigh. I am deeply, truly blessed. And sometimes I’d just like to again be that physically competent person with a good paying job and the option to do pretty much whatever I want because I have almost-endless personal energy resources… and where my pride gets to be a main part of my personality, helping but not needing help, giving but not needing gifts. Oh well. I suppose that is why I am classifying this whole injury as a personal growth opportunity. An opportunity to live outside my comfort zone, to accept all assistance offered, to not do it all on my own. A new chapter of my life that I expect will have as many new benefits as new limitations.
So, yes, I’m going to apply. It’s a good energy day, so I read through the program requirements. Seven pages of fine print later, I see the good and the bad of the program.
- The Department of Education can discharge my loans, but first they will monitor my earned income for the next three years. I need to make sure it doesn’t go above federal poverty level for a household of two (regardless of # of people in the household…weird). That is about $1300 a month. Pretty sure that will be fine, no worries there. And as a taxpayer (ex-taxpayer?), I appreciate this assurance of an applicant’s need.
- Discharged federal loans are considered income. In three years when the $1800 is discharged, it will be considered taxable income for that year. Fine for me, a blip. For someone with $60K in loans… devestating.
- If I apply for any student loan during the next three years, or if I make more than the cutoff amount, the discharge process will stop and I will again be completely responsible for paying off all of my student loans. Reasonable.
- If after three years the sun comes out and I want to apply for a new student loan, I have to see a doctor, get a form filled out saying I’m able to work enough to make money, and agree that I won’t try to discharge the new loans under the same injury or illness that disabled me the first time.
A pretty reasonable program, all things considered. I filled out the one page form, signed it, and mailed it out. I didn’t even have to provide documentation, because they already received it from Social Security.
If all goes well, at the tale end of 2019 my student loans will be discharged and that responsibility will be done. Strange to plan to still be so limited from an mTBI in 2019. Very strange. At the same time, after denying how damn long it will take for me to heal and return to work over these past three years, I’m ready to consider another three years might be needed before I can jump forward into a financially independent life. I fully and completely welcome to universe to prove me wrong and allow me to recover fully over the next year. Really, I dare yah. Pragmatically, however, and as a scientist, I need to plan the future based on what the data says. And right now, the data says – Kim, it’s going to be a while.