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Debt relief for veterans who say they were cheated by for-profit colleges

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The Department of Education is settling a case that will grant almost $6 billion in debt relief to students. They allege that unscrupulous, mostly for-profit colleges deceived them into overpaying for often useless degrees. Many of these students were veterans swindled out of their GI Bill educational benefits. And now they're celebrating that decision. NPR's Quil Lawrence reports.

QUIL LAWRENCE, BYLINE: Jarrod Thoma served in the U.S. Army and then planned to become an engineer when he got out. But he says DeVry University, a for-profit school, drained his GI Bill benefits and encouraged him to take out tens of thousands more in loans. Then he graduated in 2015.

JARROD THOMA: Well, what's the degree worth? It's not even worth the paper it's printed on. I've had an extremely hard time finding employment.

LAWRENCE: The Trump administration's education secretary, Betsy DeVos, repealed rules that required schools to prove their degrees led to gainful employment. And her department fought this class-action lawsuit, which the Biden administration has now settled in U.S. District Court. Carrie Wofford is with Veterans Education Success.

CARRIE WOFFORD: This is a huge deal for many students who were tricked and deceived and cheated by really lousy, mostly for-profit colleges. This is not student debt cancellation for any student. This is only if you were cheated.

LAWRENCE: Also, schools have a limit on how much federal money they can take. But for years there was a loophole. GI Bill money didn't count against that quota. That made veterans a highly profitable target, says Wofford.

WOFFORD: These veterans like Jarrod Thoma, who were just totally targeted for their GI Bill and targeted in really ugly ways.

LAWRENCE: Now Thoma and his family are about $50,000 out of the red. He's been carrying that debt around for seven years.

THOMA: I was at a loss for words. I was in shock, disbelief, really ecstatic. I told my wife first thing. I'm still at a loss for words. I can't believe it's finally at some sort of resolution, and I feel vindicated.

LAWRENCE: The Department of Education says it will send billions of dollars of automatic relief to about 200,000 borrowers in the class-action lawsuit. Quil Lawrence, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Quil Lawrence is a New York-based correspondent for NPR News, covering veterans' issues nationwide. He won a Robert F. Kennedy Award for his coverage of American veterans and a Gracie Award for coverage of female combat veterans. In 2019 Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America honored Quil with its IAVA Salutes Award for Leadership in Journalism.