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Education Department Bureaucracy Keeps Disabled Borrowers in Debt

Posted on Feb 14, 2011

By Sasha Chavkin, Cezary Podkul, Jeannette Neumann and Ben Protess

(Page 3)

In some cases, borrowers see even their Social Security disability benefits garnished by the federal government to pay down their student loans.

Scott Creighton, a former carpenter and draftsman living in Tampa, Fla., was declared disabled by Social Security in September 2009. Three years before, he had suffered a pulmonary embolism—a blood clot traveled from his leg to block the main artery of his lung—that left him unable to work a full day or repay his federal student loans.

“The claimant has the following severe impairments: deep vein thrombosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and depression,” ruled Social Security Judge Christopher Messina. “Considering the claimant’s age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, there are no jobs that exist in significant numbers in the national economy that the claimant can perform.”

The Education Department is still collecting on Creighton’s student loans. Soon after the judge’s decision, Creighton began receiving calls from Enterprise Recovery Systems, a debt collector acting on behalf of the department. On the advice of a customer service agent, he requested a disability discharge of his debt and sent Enterprise his medical records and the Social Security judge’s decision.

In November 2009, Creighton received a rejection letter from Enterprise. It said he had failed to prove that his condition had not existed when he took out his loans, even though he obtained the last of his federal loans in 1993, more than a decade before the embolism.

Enterprise told Creighton he could apply to the Education Department to forgive his loans if he would never be able to work again. But although his condition is permanent, he still hopes to work one day. Enterprise never mentioned the law easing the standard for discharge to five years of disability, Creighton says, and he decided not to submit such an application to the department.

So, for almost a year, the Education Department has been garnishing 15 percent of Creighton’s monthly disability checks from Social Security to pay off his student loans. The department takes $170 out of his monthly benefit of $1,135, reducing it to $965.

“One hundred and seventy dollars may not seem like a lot, but I make less than a thousand a month on fixed income,” Creighton says. “That has a huge effect on me.”

Interactive timeline: Calls for Reform and One Borrower2019s Struggle


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prisnersdilema's avatar

By prisnersdilema, February 15, 2011 at 10:55 am Link to this comment

If you still believe there is the rule of law in this country you are deluded. It no longer
exists. In a country that allows it’s plutocracy to ship all it’s jobs overseas, the only
function of it’s education system is to create debt slaves.

In fairy tales frightened villagers sacrifice their beautiful maidens to fire breathing
dragons to keep them from devouring the countryside.

In the reality of modern America the banks demand the sacrifice of millions of our
children, to work as debt slaves throughout their entire work life. Crippled and burdened
by the plutocracy, sold into legal slavery with no recourse.

This is what they have done to our country. They have turned this country into a nation
of slaves. As Moses said unto to Pharaoh, let my people go. Unless my people are
freed this country will suffer decades of plagues, and misery until the bankers who are
dripping with Americas blood are delivered unto justice and payback by the American

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