My Student Loan Truth: Andrea’s Story

When the Department of Education seized Andrea’s tax refunds to pay for bogus student loan debt from Corinthian Colleges, there were devastating effects for her entire family.

 

Andrea Smith is a single mother living in Decatur, Michigan with three teenage children and a 5-month old granddaughter. She was scammed by Everest Institute, part of Corinthian Colleges, and has been working to overcome the damage the school caused ever since. This is her student loan truth.

 

Why did you decide to attend Everest?

Growing up, my family struggled financially. I was poor her my whole life, but I wanted things to be different for my own family and to show my children that a college degree could make a difference for a better life. Everest guaranteed job placement and a good career, so I enrolled in the medical assisting program.

 

What was your experience like trying to get a job after completing the Everest program?

It became clear pretty quickly that these guaranteed jobs did not exist and that they had lied to students. They promised us jobs they knew we would never get. We were overcharged and undereducated and then Everest left us high and dry.

 

How have the student loans from Everest impacted your life?

Here I am, 6 years later with nothing to show for my education and a lot of wasted time. My inability to pay off these loans has crippled me with terrible credit. As a single mom, you don’t have time to waste or money to spare.  To add insult to injury, they even took my tax refunds two years in a row, which was absolutely devastating. I was counting on those tax refunds, and not having them caused my world to come crashing down.

 

What happened when you found out the Department of Education would be taking your tax refunds to pay for your debt from Everest?

The first time my refund was taken in 2018, I had a plan to use it to leave an abusive relationship. Being financially dependent was part of the abuse. Without that $5,000 refund, I couldn’t leave. Eventually, through the help of friends and family, I was able to take my kids and move out of state, but it was an extremely stressful experience.

Then in 2019, I was unemployed and counting on the next tax refund of $9,000. I had a new grandbaby on the way and had rent to pay. But again, the Department of Education took my refund and I was back in a financial crisis. Fortunately, I was able to get assistance from a local church to help avoid eviction, but it wasn’t enough to keep us in our apartment. So I had to pack up and move back to Michigan with my family and pregnant daughter.

 

How did the financial stress impact your family?

My granddaughter was born seven weeks premature shortly after returning to Michigan and was hospitalized for weeks. I truly believe the financial stress on the whole family during that time was a major reason for the premature birth. There has been so much time lost and pain endured by my whole family because of this debt, and that can never be recovered.

 

What would you say to the Department of Education about your experience with this debt?

I wish they would remember that we are good, hardworking, people who just wanted to build a better life for ourselves and our families. These companies took advantage of us on the Department’s watch.  Changes need to be made so this situation can never happen to future generations.

 

Do you still believe in higher education as an opportunity for a better future?

Despite all the setbacks, I’ve always been able to get back on my feet. I’m not giving up. I have a new job (which has nothing to do with my medical assisting degree), I’m in a happy, stable relationship with my fiancé, and my granddaughter and children are healthy.  And I’m hopeful that for them, college can actually be an opportunity and not a burden.

Trailblazing Military Leader and LGBTQ Civil Rights Advocate Delivers Disabled American Veterans Lecture Sponsored by LSC

When Shannon McLaughlin was asked in 2010 to be the lead plaintiff in a federal lawsuit demanding that partners and family members of LGBTQ military service members and veterans receive the same benefits as those of heterosexual service members, it was far from an easy decision.

lt col shannon mclaughlin

2019 DAV Distinguished Lecture Series: LTC Shannon McLaughlin, Massachusetts National Guard.

Speaking recently at this year’s Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Distinguished Lecture at Harvard Law School, McLaughlin noted that she was a Major and Judge Advocate General in the Massachusetts National Guard at the time. She had been investigated multiple times under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT)—the discriminatory policy that prevented LGBTQ service members from serving openly in the military—and was able to remain in the military, even after admitting she was lesbian.

“We just don’t sue our employers”

When the lead plaintiff request came, she remembers thinking: “In the military, we just don’t sue our employers,” she said.

But McLaughlin—who today is a Lieutenant Colonel and the State Judge Advocate for the Military Division of the Commonwealth and a Command Judge Advocate in the Massachusetts National Guard—realized that she was in a far better position than many others to take on the role of lead plaintiff.

While she and her partner had children, McLaughlin understood that if she lost her job as a result of the lawsuit, she had a professional degree and could pursue a career as a lawyer in the private sector.  She had the support of her partner, and her family and friends.  “I thought of all those who didn’t have the luxuries that I had to be the lead plaintiff. And so I agreed.”

Seizing the moment

The lawsuit was filed by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network immediately after the repeal of DADT in 2011. Its goal: to ensure that the spouses of gay and lesbian service members and veterans had access to the same health, dental, housing, commissary, counseling and other services that the spouses of non-LGBTQ service members have.

As multiple lawsuits filed to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) gained widespread national media attention, McLaughlin’s lawsuit challenged the constitutionality of DOMA with respect to military and veterans’ benefits for same-sex spouses and their families.

“It was important once DADT was repealed to seize on the momentum” that DADT’s repeal and the lawsuits against DOMA created, she told the group assembled at Harvard Law School to hear her speak. Within 24 months, DOMA was struck down by the Supreme Court and her case was settled favorably as well.

Fighting for LGBTQ rights in the military for 20 years

Serving as lead plaintiff was far from the first or last experience McLaughlin has had fighting for LGBTQ rights during her 20 years in the military, which has included time in both the Navy and Army and deployment to the Mediterranean and the Middle East. A graduate of Boston College Law School, she has actively led on issues impacting women and LGBTQ service members throughout her career and currently serves as a member of the Veterans Affairs (VA) Advisory Committee on Women Veterans, an expert panel that advises VA’s Secretary on issues and programs impacting women veterans.

In her speech, she talked about the compromises she had to make while serving in the military under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.  The rule’s effects reverberate for LGBTQ veterans today.

“You had to keep quiet…hide your personal life…hide yourself, or lose your job,” she said.  You couldn’t “act too gay” or “leave the wrong establishment.”

In the military, developing unit cohesion is a vital way that soldiers come together to make sacrifices and succeed at their overall missions. For heterosexuals in the military, unit cohesion develops in part by talking with your fellow soldiers about things going on in your life, she observed.  But if you were prohibited by Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell to be openly gay, you couldn’t talk about “who you love, who you broke up with, who was sending you care packages, and who should be called if, God forbid, something awful happens to you,” she said.

“I could listen to others talk about their spouses, but I couldn’t. Or I could lie by changing the gender and name of my girlfriend,” she said.

Having joined the military after 9/11, by 2002 McLaughlin concluded that she wanted to make her career in the Armed Forces, but that she would be active in efforts to overturn Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell as well.  She knew she would finish law school, become a Judge Advocate General, or JAG, and would be called upon to handle discharges resulting from DADT. “I knew that maybe I could help people targeted by DADT, or at least make it easier for them, help them retain some dignity in the process,” she told the audience.

She did that and more, joining the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and traveling to Washington, DC – “not in uniform” – to appeal to lawmakers to repeal the law.

The jig was up

But then, in 2008, someone reported her as being a suspected lesbian.

“I figured the jig was up,” she said. She was devastated. When during the investigative process they asked her directly if she was a lesbian, she said “Yes I am” and then immediately asked for an attorney.

Ultimately she became one of only four people known to have survived DADT and not been discharged from the military despite being labeled gay or lesbian. She was investigated once under DADT and then a handful of additional investigations ensued. Yet she remained in the military.

Harm from DADT remains

“Officially there were 13,000 individuals discharged from the military under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, “ she said. Many more resigned or pled down to lesser forms of misconduct so the exact nature of their discharge would not appear on their record. Many others never joined the military because they are gay or lesbian. Still others just left rather than risk being found out, she observed.

Role of transgender individuals in the military

The repeal of DADT has not adequately addressed the issues faced by those who are transgender, she said, because those issues are covered under medical regulations. While she can’t express her direct opinion in public about how transgender service members and veterans should be addressed, she did note that she has been active in examining the issue and advising the military, including its senior-most leaders, about what should be done.

“We need to determine how best to support our transgender service people,” she said.  They want the choice to serve just like she did, she said. The goal: to ensure that all qualified individuals who want to serve, can serve.

The DAV Lecture is made possible by the generous support of the DAV Charitable Service Trust and is co-sponsored by the Veterans Legal Clinic at the WilmerHale Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, the Law School’s Armed Forces Association, and HLS Lambda. Previous speakers in the DAV Lecture series have included Hon. Robert Davis, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims; Dr. David Shulkin, Secretary of VA; Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy; Robert McDonald, Secretary of VA; and Hon. Robert Russell, founder of the nation’s first veterans treatment court.

Fighting For A Veteran Facing the Invisible Wounds of War

Linda Heeyoung Park, JD ‘21, a student in LSC’s Safety Net Project, shares the story of her client, Jay, a veteran who came to LSC for help protecting his disability benefits. 

Jay loved his job as a tower agent with US Airways. Seated high in Logan Airport’s control tower, he guided planes to and from their gates. He was a commander of sorts, a role that was familiar to him from his previous career.

Before working at the airport, Jay served as a Marine.

Linda Heeyoung Park

Linda Heeyoung Park, JD ’21

After being called to active duty in 2004, he quickly climbed up the ranks and, by 2006, became a sergeant. With the other Marines in his unit, he traversed Iraq by Humvee, sending radio signals to different camps through the night. One night in June 2006, everything came to a halt. An Improvised Explosive Device (IED), hidden under the road detonated, destroying the Humvee, injuring the people inside, obliterating Jay’s right leg, and severely damaging his right elbow and his left foot.

When Jay returned stateside for rehabilitation, his body was in shambles. He could no longer extend his right arm and could barely put weight on his broken left foot. The phantom pain from the right leg he lost was intense and perplexing. His right foot, the foot that no longer existed, felt numb.

Pain spurred reflection. “It’s hard to see all the soldiers returning from Iraq,” Jay confessed. “What were we there for? Why did we die?”

Still, Jay persevered. He endured intensive physical therapy, started using prosthetics, and learned to walk again. Most importantly, he learned to accept his disabilities. Within four years, Jay was directing planes for US Airways, starting a new life with his new body.

But Jay’s disabilities followed him like a shadow. Every morning at work, Jay walked up three flights of stairs with no elevators and no railings. He had to stop every other step, leaning against the wall until the shooting pain from his phantom limb subsided. Going to the bathroom during work, which involved going up and down the stairs, was not a possibility. Jay would be drenched in sweat throughout the day from the effort he exerted to complete his work. After two years of enduring the pain, Jay was forced to quit.

This was the story that Jay told me when I met him at our first intake meeting. As he recounted his story, his eyes remained still and his face calm. I tried to reflect his composure, but my mind spiraled. Images of bombs, blood, and hidden tears flashed in front of my eyes. I managed to squeeze out a question.

“So, how can we help you today?”

Jay explained that his disability benefits had been discontinued after he stopped working, because he was no longer considered disabled. Really? I asked him. Even to me, a student only one month into my work on disability benefits cases at LSC’s Safety Net Project, the notion that Jay was not ‘disabled’ in some basic sense seemed absurd.

“I received a bunch of letters years ago,” he said. “I didn’t know what they were saying. Now I know that Social Security Administration (SSA) is discontinuing my benefits. I have a hearing in three weeks.”

Three weeks meant we had no time to spare. I had to dig through thousands of pages of medical records, schedule a meeting with Jay every week leading up to the hearing, and find out why SSA rejected his benefits. I had to get to know Jay and understand his story and his struggles as soon as possible.

Every day at work, I shuffled through the thick stack of Jay’s medical records. Those medical records, especially from Jay’s first few years of rehabilitation, served as Jay’s biography. They revealed in great detail a side of Jay that he did not explicitly present to me: Jay’s life hidden behind the closed doors of hospitals. Words like “depression,” “agoraphobia,” and “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” permeated the records.

Thinking about how eloquent and resilient Jay is, I realized that Jay had additional disabilities that were invisible to our eyes. Beneath his thick jeans Jay wore a prosthetic leg. Beneath his skin, Jay was suffering from depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Jay woke up in middle of the night, panting and paralyzed by his nightmares. He downed liquor to forget the bright orange flames he saw in his dreams. He jolted when people approached him at work.

SSA neglected to consider Jay’s symptoms. The agency dismissed Jay’s physical disabilities because he worked for a period of time, not knowing the pain he fought through every day. SSA denied Jay his benefits when he needed them most, and failed to consider the other vestiges of war: the emotional injuries he sustained as a Marine.

Jay and I met every week leading up to the hearing. I asked him questions that drew out the stories SSA had ignored. As we both were getting exhausted from the prepping, Jay lamented, “They say, ‘ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.’ I’ve done my share for the country. I gave it everything. What has the country done for me?” I didn’t know how to answer his question. Jay had served his country, but nobody fought for him when he needed help.

On the hearing day, Jay was wearing his usual jeans and gray jacket. Other than his slight limp, Jay, like always, appeared able-bodied and articulate. The administrative law judge (ALJ) peppered Jay with questions. How are you able to go to school when you’re disabled? What changed in between your time at US Airways and now? Are you really disabled?

Jay solemnly told his story. He advocated for himself, understanding now the relevant experiences that mattered most to the judge. He was vulnerable yet unapologetic. He was brave. He told of the pain hidden underneath the veneer of normalcy and calm. He admitted his reliance on substances and explained the causes for it. After listening to Jay, the judge questioned the vocational expert and let a few seconds of silence pass. Then, she looked at Jay and thanked him.

“I have never done this during my time as an ALJ,” she said. “But I’m going to state on the record that you won your case. Thank you for your service. This country is honored to have a veteran like you.”

When I explained the ALJ’s bench ruling to Jay outside of the courtroom—how he would be awarded his benefits dating back to the date of application in 2012 and would not have to wait anxiously for the decision—Jay simply smiled at the news. Even as my supervisor and I profusely congratulated him, he nodded and thanked us. Then he returned to his beloved two cats and his life.

In retrospect, the long and winding path to Jay’s victory could have been shortened if the system offered Jay the proper assistance when he first needed it. SSA could have acknowledged the seriousness of Jay’s mental injuries. Legal aid organizations could have been more accessible to Jay and his community to help him out in the initial stages of his case. SSA could have not punished recipients for attempting to find work despite their disabilities. Too many systemic barriers impeded Jay from accessing the benefits that he was entitled to and needed.

I read a lot of medical reports for my clients. According to those reports, a doctor diagnoses the problem, comes up with a solution, and communicates with the patient about ways to move forward. Social security benefits attorneys are like doctors. They see the issues in a client’s case, discuss a strategy to tackle the issue, and work with the client to achieve a goal. Just as every patient should be able to see a doctor, every client should be able to see an attorney.

Sometimes, on the Orange Line train back to campus from the Legal Services Center, I’m lucky enough to grab a seat. As I sit down, close my eyes, and allow my thoughts to wander, I often feel crushed by the weight of not only Jay’s, but all my clients’ stories. The stories that rarely get told yet must be heard. The responsibilities that come with knowing the stories. Sometimes these stories consume me, and I have to sneakily wipe away the tears. How unprofessional, I think to myself.

The day Jay and I won the case, I cried unabashedly on the train. A lady who sat next to me offered tissues. She asked if I was okay, and I explained through the tears that my client won his case. She congratulated me. She told me that I would be a good lawyer. Listening to her, I realized that I do want to be the lawyer that she envisioned me as. I want to be a lawyer who treats every story with the significance it deserves and who gives it its proper stage.

Linda Heeyoung Park is a 2L student at Harvard Law School. This is her first semester working with LSC’s Safety Net Project.

LSC’s Toby Merrill ’11 named to the TIME 100 Next list

The founder of the Project on Predatory Student Lending is recognized for leading the fight against predatory for-profit colleges and fighting for the rights of over one million student borrowers.

toby merrill

Toby Merrill ’11, founder and director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending.
(Photo: Martha Stewart)

Toby Merrill ’11, founder and director of the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School, has been named to the first-ever TIME 100 Next list, an expansion of the TIME 100 list of the most influential people in the world. The list highlights 100 rising stars who are shaping the future of business, entertainment, sports, politics, health, science and activism, and more. Others on the TIME 100 Next list include Pete Buttigieg, Kyrsten Sinema, Aly Raisman. The full list and related tributes appear in the November 25, 2019 issue of TIME, available on newsstands on Friday, November 15, and now at time.com/next.

TIME 100 Next says of Merrill: “Years before student debt would be widely considered a national crisis—Americans now owe a combined $1.6 trillion—Toby Merrill started using litigation to fight what she calls the ‘worst-of-the-worst student debt,’ the kind incurred by students who enrolled in predatory for-profit colleges that burdened them with debt and provided them with worthless degrees.”

Read more at Harvard Law Today.

SAVE THE DATE: Lieutenant Colonel Shannon McLaughlin To Give DAV Lecture Thursday, Nov. 21

dav lecture poster nove 2019

November 21: The DAV Distinguished Lecture Series, with Lt. Colonel Shannon McLaughlin (Click image to enlarge)

Lieutenant Colonel Shannon McLaughlin of the Massachusetts Army National Guard will deliver this year’s Disabled American Veterans (DAV) Distinguished Lecture on Thursday, November 21 at noon at Harvard Law School.

McLaughlin, who deployed to Afghanistan and has more than 20 years of military service including time in both the Navy and Army, is now the state judge advocate/legal adviser to The Adjutant General for the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, Military Division. She is a member of the Veterans Affairs (VA) Advisory Committee on Women Veterans. McLaughlin has also been a courageous leader on issues impacting women and LGBTQ servicemembers, including serving as lead plaintiff in the suit against VA and the Department of Defense to challenge the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act with respect to military and veterans benefits for same-sex spouses and their families. The event is free and open to the public, and will take place at Harvard Law School in the Wasserstein Caspersen Clinical (WCC) building, WCC 2036 (2nd Floor), Millstein East Function Room A.

The DAV Lecture is made possible by the generous support of the DAV Charitable Service Trust and is co-sponsored by the Veterans Legal Clinic at the WilmerHale Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School, the Law School’s Armed Forces Association, and HLS Lambda. Previous speakers in the DAV Lecture series have included Hon. Robert Davis, Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims; Dr. David Shulkin, Secretary of VA; Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy; Robert McDonald, Secretary of VA; and Hon. Robert Russell, founder of the nation’s first veterans treatment court.

New Veterans Initiative Launched To Connect Low-Income Veterans With Underutilized Benefits


For Immediate Release
November 5, 2019
Contact: Katie Ward 603-689-8170

New Veterans Initiative Launched To Connect Low-Income Veterans With Underutilized Benefits

New Online Tool Aims to Help Thousands of Low-Income Massachusetts Veterans Access Financial Assistance

BOSTON – A new statewide initiative is being launched to help close the significant gap of low-income veterans in Massachusetts who are not accessing financial assistance that they are eligible for under state law, the Veterans Legal Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School (LSC) announced today.

Secretary Urena

Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans Services Francisco Urena speaks about the Massachusetts Veterans Benefit Calculator at the State House on November 5, 2019. (Photo courtesy of Secretary Urena.)

The new online tool – the Massachusetts Veteran Benefit Calculator – created by the Veterans Legal Clinic aims to help veterans easily determine if they may be eligible for financial assistance through a state program known as Chapter 115 Benefits. Massachusetts is home to approximately 325,000 of the nation’s veterans, too many of whom experience financial instability and struggle with poverty.

The announcement was made today by the Veterans Legal Clinic in collaboration with Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs Francisco Ureña, as well as Veterans Service Officers and other veterans organizations.

Low-income veterans can be eligible for state financial assistance under Chapter 115 if they fall under 200 percent of the federal poverty level and meet other eligibility requirements. However, there has been a persistent gap between the number of veterans eligible for these funds and the number of veterans who actually apply and access them. A 2017 report by the State Auditor’s Office found that between 2014-2016, only 14,390 individuals received Chapter 115 benefits. Thousands more veterans may be eligible. The Chapter 115 program also supports survivors and dependents of veterans, but many are unaware of the program.

“Veterans have earned these benefits through their service, yet we know that there is a major gap between those veterans who are eligible and those who access them. And a similar gap exists for widows and widowers of veterans.  We hope this online tool can make it a little easier to close these gaps,” said Betsy Gwin, Associate Director of the Veterans Legal Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School. “No veteran or survivor in Massachusetts should be struggling to avoid homelessness, to keep the lights on, or to feed their family, and this financial assistance can make all the difference. We are honored to share in this mission with the Department of Veterans Services and local VSOs across the Commonwealth.”

“The Department of Veterans’ Services works to ensure that Massachusetts veterans are supported after a career of service to our nation,” said Francisco Ureña, Secretary of the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services. “This new online tool will help veterans and their families explore state benefits available to them with ease.”

“The process of applying and navigating benefits can be complex and daunting, on top of the other daily issues veterans are dealing with,” said Wesley Bigham, a Massachusetts Veteran who served in Afghanistan. “I wasn’t aware of Chapter 115 benefits when I came back from active duty and was unemployed, but it would have made a huge difference for my family. If I’d known about this financial assistance and had access to a tool like the Benefits Calculator, it would have been one of the first things I did when returning home.”

Outreach materials

Outreach and informational materials about the Massachusetts Veterans Benefit Calculator. (Photo courtesy of Secretary Urena.)

Under Chapter 115 of the Massachusetts General Laws, the Commonwealth, along with town and city governments, provides financial assistance for qualifying low-income veterans and their surviving family members who are struggling to make ends meet. The monthly financial assistance can be used to help veterans pay their medical bills, for emergency assistance, or to help prevent homelessness and utility shutoff. Monthly Chapter 115 benefits can range from a few dollars to over $1,000 per month, depending on the veteran’s income and expenses. The benefits are administered by the Department of Veterans Services (DVS) and local municipalities’ Veterans’ Service Offices (VSO).

Veterans and their dependents can visit the online calculator, answer simple questions, and receive an immediate estimate of their potential eligibility for Chapter 115 benefits. If they are eligible, users can download a form with their answers to the tool’s screening questions and connect with their local VSO. In partnership with the state, the VSO will assist the veteran or dependent with their official application for Chapter 115 benefits and manage the process of accessing benefits should the applicant meet eligibility requirements.

For more information, veterans should visit MassVetBen.org.

The Veterans Legal Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School provides pro bono civil legal assistance to veterans and their family members.  Our goal is to protect the legal rights of the veterans community through determined, passionate, and effective advocacy.  In addition to representing individual clients, the Clinic also pursues broader initiatives to improve the systems that serve the veteran community.  And because it is part of the Legal Services Center, the Clinic is able to leverage a wide range of expertise and advocacy resources for our community’s most vulnerable members.

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UPDATE: Judge Grants Class Certification to 200,000 Student Borrowers in Sweet v. DeVos

96% of the 900 class members who submitted affidavits in support of this motion said their lives are worse today than before they went to school

 

On Wednesday, October 30, a judge certified the class of more than 200,000 borrowers in Sweet v. DeVos, a case that seeks to force the Department of Education to process their borrower defense applications. This victory for borrowers ensures that the voices of former for-profit college students, who have been cheated by their school and ignored by their government for years, will be heard.

The judge also issued a sharp rebuke of the Department’s excuses for its inaction, saying that the Department’s actions, as alleged in the lawsuit, show “the uniform policy of inaction.”

The court goes on:

But here is a fact no one disputes: the Department has decided zero applications since June 2018 (Dkt. No. 20-20 at 20; Compl. ¶ 181). As represented during oral argument, over 210,000 borrower defense claims now remain pending and the Department has failed to grant or deny a single application since June 2018. This is especially striking considering that between July 2016 and January 20, 2017, the Department had decided approximately 27,996 borrower defenses applications (Compl. ¶ 135). Even if this gaping contrast might possibly be explained in part by the preliminary injunction in Manriquez, it nonetheless evidences the uniform policy of inaction alleged here where the proposed class explicitly excludes Corinthian borrowers who are members of the Manriquez class. According to plaintiffs, the Department “has a legal duty to reach a final decision on each borrower defense assertion” and it is undisputed that — despite the swelling backlog — “it has refused to satisfy that duty for well over a year” (id. ¶¶ 52–76; Dkt. No. 42 at 3).

 

In less than a month after the lawsuit was filed, more than 900 students submitted their testimony to support the certification of this class, and to have their voices heard. The extensive testimony provides a comprehensive summary of the overwhelming harm of the continued debt and stress on students’ lives due to the Department of Education’s refusal to process their claims. Specifically, students reported problems like financial and mental health consequences, and delaying basic life decisions like starting a family or pursuing additional education.

The testimony data show:

  • 96% of students reported that their lives are worse today than before they went to school.
  • 61% of students reported deferring further education
  • 47% of students reported deferring marriage and children
  • 32% of students reported continuing to receive payment demands after submitting their Defense to Repayment
  • 958 days (2.6 years) is the average time students have been waiting for an answer from the U.S. Department of Education on their Borrower Defense applications

 

Click here to view testimonial excerpts and videos from students across the country who were defrauded by for-profit colleges.

For more information on this case, click here.

LSC Student Argues Tax Case in Federal Court

Through Harvard Law School’s Federal Tax Clinic, students have the unique opportunity represent low-income taxpayers in disputes with the IRS, both before the IRS and in federal court. Working individually and in teams, they represent taxpayers involving examinations, administrative appeals collection matters, and cases before the United States Tax Court and federal district courts.

In this video, we follow Adeyemi “Yemi” Adediran ’21, a second year student in the Clinic, as he prepares to argue an appeal on behalf of a military veteran with PTSD in the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Chicago. The veteran’s appeal to the Seventh Circuit centered on his eligibility for innocent spouse relief under the Internal Revenue Code. Over a three year period, the veteran’s wife embezzled $500K from the Appleton, Wisconsin Blood Bank—where she worked as a bookkeeper. She was arrested and sentenced to jail, but because the couple filed taxes jointly and embezzled money is taxable, they were both legally responsible for back taxes on the money.

As an important part of his preparation, Adediran participated in a mooting session before a panel of “judges” including Keith Fogg, clinical professor and director of the Federal Tax Clinic, and Clinical Professor Daniel Nagin, vice dean for experiential and clinical education and faculty director of the WilmerHale Legal Services Center at Harvard Law School (LSC), of which the Tax Clinic is a part.

You can read more about the Federal Tax Clinic and other LSC clinics and services at legalservicescenter.org.

This post was published by Harvard Law Today on November 14, 2019.

Amanda’s Everest Institute Story

Amanda Wilson went to Everest College in Chelsea, Massachusetts to get a degree in medical assisting. When the Corinthian-owned school collapsed and was found to have misled students, the Massachusetts Attorney General filed an application with the Department of Education asking it to cancel the loans of all Corinthian students in Massachusetts, citing the for-profit college chain’s extensive fraud. This was in 2015 – now, four years later, these loans still haven’t been cancelled and Amanda is part of the lawsuit Vara v DeVos to force the Department of Education and Secretary Betsy DeVos to act.

This is her student loan truth.

 

What made you decide to attend Everest?

It was a combination of things. My cousin was already enrolled there and I had also seen a lot of ads on TV and online about students’ personal success stories that resonated with me, so I decided to apply for a medical assisting degree.

The advisors were pushy and over the top about getting students to sign up. They were very vague about the financial process and I ended up taking out more loans than I realized. The whole process was confusing and felt very rushed. Looking back now, I realize that the enrollment process should have sparked red flags. But I was young and I trusted the school and my cousin.

 

What was your experience like at Everest?

Right away I felt that the class structure was very disjointed. Because Everest lets people start at any time instead of only at the beginning of a semester, new students would be enrolling and joining classes every month. So instructors would constantly backtrack in order to get the new students up to speed, making the class structure very difficult to really learn anything. It was clearly built around just getting more people in the door and not actually educating them.

 

Did your experience at this school help you obtain a job in the field you studied?

In the beginning, recruiters stressed that there was a 100% success rate among Everest graduates, as advisors were really active in helping with the job search, but that was definitely not true. In my graduating class, I know the majority of us didn’t get any of the help we were promised.

Trying to find a job on our own was really difficult because we quickly realized that a lot of places didn’t accept the Everest degree. Employers felt I didn’t have the right hands-on experience or the hours in the field they required to get the skills they wanted. At that point, it was too late to go back and get those credentials without paying more money and going back to a different school. It made it impossible to gain the experience employers require.

I was never able to find a job using that degree. I continued at the job that I had while I was in school, then eventually, switched to get a job in medical manufacturing, which has nothing to do with medical assisting.

 

How has the debt from this experience impacted your life?

I have a total of $18k in federal and private loans. It’s been a really difficult process, especially realizing that the school cheated us and we got a worthless degree.

The process for trying to get these loans cancelled has been extremely stressful. I know the Attorney General submitted the borrower defense application years ago, but still the Department of Education has put my loans on hold and then back into default twice.

Financially, I can’t plan my life. It’s ruined my credit and I was unable to purchase a house or a car without a cosigner. I’m trying to go back to school and move on from this, but I can’t because of all the problems with my loans.

 

The Department of Education has refused to cancel the loans of thousands of former students of for-profit colleges. They’ve ignored the many thousands of students who filed for borrower defense. What would you say to the Department about the need to cancel these loans?

I don’t think they understand how much people are really struggling as it is. We’re getting our wages garnished and our tax refunds taken. Nobody can get a straight answer on the status of their loans, and the Department continues to collect when they’re not supposed to. It crushes people. We’re stuck. It’s a really difficult place to be, to deal with that mentally and financially.

In a system that forces you to go to school, it’s really discouraging to have this experience. It makes you not want to invest in this system that we’ve been told works for everybody. How can you trust another school to not do the same thing, when you didn’t think this would happen to you in the first place?

 

Why did you decide to join this lawsuit to force the Department to act?

The biggest reason is because the lack of accountability towards the Department of Education. They shouldn’t be able to just ignore students and the law and the Attorney General’s application for borrower defense. It’s unfair. A lot of people worked hard, graduated at the top of their class, and were still left in this spot. We were cheated. It destroys your faith in the government and in our system of education and I think it’s important to stand up to that.

 

 

For more information on Vara v. DeVos, click here.

Major Victory for Defrauded Students as Education Department Is Held in Contempt, Fined

 

“Secretary DeVos has repeatedly and brazenly violated the law to collect for-profit college students’ debts and deny their rights, and today she has been held accountable.”

Toby Merrill, Director

Project on Predatory Student Lending

The Project on Predatory Student Lending secured a critical court ruling on behalf of students defrauded by Corinthian Colleges, as a federal judge held Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in contempt and fined the Department of Education $100,000 for violation of a June 2018 court order prohibiting the Department from collecting on loans from thousands of student borrowers. The ruling is part of a larger class action lawsuit brought by the Project on Predatory Student Lending and Housing and Economic Rights Advocates to obtain debt relief for students defrauded by the now-defunct Corinthian Colleges. Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim of the U.S. District Court in San Francisco said that there was “no question” that the Department of Education’s actions violated the preliminary injunction, and that those violations “harmed individual borrowers.” Project on Predatory Student Lending Director Toby Merrill applauded the ruling, saying “Secretary DeVos has repeatedly and brazenly violated the law to collect for-profit college students’ debts and deny their rights, and today she has been held accountable. Thousands of students illegally had their tax refunds seized and wages garnished, and the Department still can’t identify all of the affected students nor refunded the money. The judge is sending a loud and clear message: students have rights under the law and DeVos’ illegal and reckless violation of their rights will not be tolerated.”

Read the Project on Predatory Student Lending’s press release about this important ruling, and see coverage in the Boston Globe, Washington Post, and New York Times.