‘I Start Looking at What I Owe and How Much I Make, and It's Just Like, There's No Way.’
Doctor of audiology, Edward J. Hines VA Hospital
Department of Veterans Affairs
What do you do?
I work for the Department of Veterans Affairs. I am a doctor of audiology. So I diagnose and treat hearing loss, dispense hearing aids to the veteran population… I work at a main facility, Edward J. Hines VA Hospital. I have some experience working at what's called the “community-based” outpatient clinics. But I, thankfully, got a position at the main hospital, which is a much shorter commute.
How did you find out about the program? What made you decide to pursue it? Did it affect your job choice after graduation?
I graduated in 2010 and was working. Unfortunately, although I have a professional degree, it was very costly. The pay is not really commensurate with an MD-level provider. So I graduate, I start looking at what I owe, and how much I make. And it's just like, “there's no way.” I'm not really sure how I heard about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program. But it was somewhere around 2012. I'd been working for a while and just not really liking the job that I had. It was retail sales and a lot of my income was based on commission from selling hearing aids, and the place I worked was kind of a low-income area. So it was just not really not really cutting it. So I discovered I could, in 2012, President Obama did something where you could get your loans into the Department of Education, consolidate them, roll them over, whatever that was, so I realized that I could do that. And then if I could get a government job, then my loans would be eligible for forgiveness. So, it was kind of a perfect storm. I hated my job. I wanted to work in the VA because I liked the population. I worked in the VA as a student. So as an audiologist, I didn't like selling, so I won't have to sell anything in [a VA] job. I hand out hearing aids all day to people who need them. No questions asked. You know, I'm, I enjoy that aspect of working for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Hearing loss and tinnitus are the number one and two claimed disabilities for the Department of Veterans Affairs, so we're kind of a popular clinic. … So long story short, I got a job in Virginia. And so that started my path. And I figured I could do 10 years, you know, that's reasonable, because that's the only way I can get these loans off my back, there is no way I can pay him back in full. And I'm not trying to.
Did any of your loans get forgiven? How much?
Along the way, I did a lot of stuff to, you know, reduce my AGI so that I would pay the least and 10 years later, here I am. And my loans are forgiven. Like three weeks ago, approximately $135,000. And I had paid $60,000.
How did the October streamlining announcement affect your relationship with the program?
Yep, I've benefited from the waiver a little bit. So really, and truly, I'm an OG public service loan kind of person. You know, I started my job in March of 2012. I've been working for a qualifying employer ever since. No breaks. All of those months should have counted. There were three or four that were not being counted. And I could never get an answer about why it was always pre-conversion activity or administrative. And I'm like, “I didn't ask for that, like I've been paying, you know, you put me on like a $0, do whatever.” So the waiver helped me get those three or four payments counted. Without the waiver, I've still get my loans forgiven in another handful of months. So I wasn't really I wasn't really bothered. I was bothered by the fact that it was four months that weren't being counted that should have been, but in the grand scheme of things, it was only four months to me. I wasn't planning on leaving my job anytime soon. So I knew that I would still eventually get my loans forgiven. But thankfully, you know, the waiver went through, I had an Employment Certification pending. And then shortly thereafter, they got to my pending forms. And then, in May, my loans were forgiven.
It just happened kind of right on time for me. I'm pleased about that, that I didn't have like another six-month wait, because they wouldn't count the payments. They claim they weren't counting. …I will tell you one of the things I know, you hear the stories. I read the law. And I read and I knew what kind of plan I needed to be on. I knew what I needed to do. So I had been submitting ECFs annually, back to when I started working for the government in March of 2012. Shortly thereafter, I think I submitted an employment certification. So my loans were transferred to Fed Loans. But then after that, like clockwork, every year, ECF, ECF, ECF. I kind of did everything right. So the waiver helped me. I was on the right plan, I did what I needed to do, because I'm like, “this has to happen. My loans are not not going to be forgiven. So I have all my paperwork and all of that stuff.” Thankfully, in the end, I didn't have to put up a fight. Like it happened how it should have happened. I'm pleased with that. But I know that there's a lot of borrowers who had to put up a fight.
What was the hardest part of the process? Can you walk us through the biggest hurdles you had to overcome?
I think the hardest part was just the lack of communication. And I get it. I'm a government employee. So, I get that it's impossible to update everybody on everything. [More worrying] was, the uncertainty, because you hear a lot of talk of, is [The PSLF program] going to go away? Is it this? And then it's like, no, “it's codified in the law.” It's not like there's a big to-do about that. The frustrating part was those couple payments that they were claiming weren't going to count. And that I knew should have. That's the hard part. You call when you get told this one time and you get told this another time. Well, what can I do? Like, it's not my fault that you put me on some kind of administrative hold, like, I didn't ask for that. Like, I'm willing to give you my money, so I didn't have any deferments or anything. I think communication could be better. But I understand why you don't get much word, and especially when the floodgates are completely opened. And it's just a lot of people and a lot of documents that have to be addressed.
Did you talk to people that you worked with about it? Did your agency give you any kind of help?
There was a little bit of information. There's a saying: One VA is one VA. There was a little bit of information, but I definitely made sure all my co-workers knew. I was working with some students, so I definitely made sure to let them know about the program. I helped my coworkers get their documents and what they need to do, and “here's the person I know” and HR that can “sign this for you” and “you need to make sure you do one ECF, like at least once a year.” “This and that and then they're going to transfer you to Fed Loan so just FYI, FYI.” I definitely made sure that people that were around me that would qualify knew.
Do you have any other thoughts on the past two years you’d like to share?
I'm very glad, it's a big deal. I guess it may be, but it feels underwhelming because it hasn't really set in but because I haven't been paying for the last two years anyway. Because there's a pandemic but you know, it's just like “yay.” But now that I'm talking to someone about it, who is well-versed, it is a good milestone. For sure.