More Reasons to Hate Government Bureaucracies

After 25 years helping people with HIV battle heartless bureaucrats, we’ve spent so much time pulling our hair that we’re all nearly bald.  At least metaphorically.  And this week we’ve been ripping at our follicles anew.

Our client Robert is trying to get his federal student loan discharged because he is permanently disabled.  In fact, he’s been receiving Social Security disability benefits for about a decade.  He’s got host of medical problems that severely limit his ability to function, as his doctor detailed on the official government form used to request a disability-based student loan discharge.  We’ll call the doctor’s description Exhibit A:

Exhibit A

Pulmonary fibrosis … severe hypoxia … 24-hour oxygen support … AIDS … insulin-dependent diabetes … severe sleep apnea.  So of course you’re thinking, “Sallie Mae must have approved his request lickety split.”  Clearly you don’t understand the insidious stupidity of bureaucracies.  Notice the two highlighted areas in Exhibit A:  “AIDS” and (in tiny writing) “Do not use abbreviations or insurance codes.”

And because “AIDS” is, in fact, an abbreviation for “acquired immune deficiency syndrome,” Robert’s request to have his student loan discharged was not approved.  Apparently the flunky who reviewed the doctor’s statement focused entirely on the impermissible abbreviation and ignored the rest of Robert’s issue, which would render him disabled even if he didn’t have AIDS.  Exhibit B shows that flunky’s perfunctory response:

Exhibit B


So we saw two ways to address this problem:  1) Figure out who the heck the attorney might be for Sallie Mae, write a demand letter explaining the nonsensical asininity of the flunky’s response, receive a curt sorry-our-policy-is-our-policy response, get the client’s congressperson involved, and five months later finally get his student loan discharged, or 2) Suggest that Robert give the form back to his doctor, have the doctor cross out “AIDS,” write in “acquired immune deficiency syndrome”, dot every “i” with a heart and/or smiley face, initial the change, then resubmit the form.
We thought option 2 made more sense.  And if it doesn’t work, we’ll roll up our sleeves and invoke option 1.  But really, what an inordinate waste of time — and what a concerted effort on the part of Sallie Mae to ignore reality.

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