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Disability Discharge Timeline and Documents: Calls for Reform and One Borrower’s Struggle

For years, the Department of Education has been directed by Congress, the courts and its own internal ombudsman to fix its troubled program for discharging the student loans of disabled borrowers. Over the same period, Tina Brooks, a former police officer who became severely disabled in an accident suffered in the line of duty, has been mired in a so-far unsuccessful struggle to persuade the department to forgive her loans.

The top half of our timeline follows the calls for the Education Department to reform the disability discharge process; the bottom half tracks Brooks' attempts to navigate the program's bureaucracy. To use the timeline, hover your mouse over each event to read it and find related documents. Related Article »

Internal meeting minutes show that education department officials criticized the performance of ACS, the contractor handling the discharge program. They kept ACS for five more years.
Dec. 12. 2005
An education department ombudsman releases an internal report urging “systemic changes” in the disability discharge process.
Early 2008
Congress passes a law directing the department to ease the standard for disability discharge and create an expedited discharge process for veterans.
Aug. 14, 2008
A federal court in Missouri rules that the program’s communication with borrowers was so poor it was unconstitutional, violating borrowers’ due process rights.
March 9, 2009
Documents show that ACS refunded money it had been given to improve the online tracking system for the program, after the department said the changes actually destabilized the system.
Oct. 5, 2009
The department hires the contractor Nelnet to take over servicing disability discharge applications from ACS.
Oct. 1, 2010
Department of Education ▲      Tina Brooks ▼
Tina Brooks first applies for a disability discharge.
Jan. 25, 2005
Brooks receives a letter from her lender, Citibank, saying that her guarantor had approved her disability discharge application and paid off her loans. She thinks the process is over.
Nov. 17, 2005
Brooks receives a letter from ACS saying she must make payments on her loans. It turned out the education department had rejected her application, but no one had informed her.
Nov. 6, 2006
Brooks finally gets her denial letter from ACS. It is dated June 26, 2006. The only explanation provided: “Medical Review Failure.”
March 7, 2008
An education department ombudsman writes Brooks a letter saying that she cannot appeal the department’s decision.
Aug. 1, 2008
Brooks applies for disability discharge yet again – the fourth application she has submitted.
Dec. 7, 2010

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