3 Ways to Qualify for Total and Permanent Disability (TPD) Discharge

Loan Repayment3 minutes

If you get a total and permanent disability (TPD) discharge, you don’t have to repay your federal student loan(s) or complete your TEACH Grant service obligation. As of May 2023, around 492,000 borrowers have gotten loan forgiveness through TPD discharge. And there are multiple ways to qualify!

To get TPD discharge, you must show that you have a disability that severely limits your ability to work, now and in the future. This can be a physical or a mental disability. In most cases, you’ll have to provide specific kinds of proof of your disability.


Through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)

You are eligible for TPD discharge if the VA awarded you a disability determination because you

  1. have a service-connected disability that is 100% disabling, or
  2. are totally disabled based on an individual unemployability rating.

We work with the VA to identify people who qualify for TPD discharge, and we’ll send you a letter if you’re eligible.

Didn’t receive a letter? If you believe you have a qualifying VA disability determination, you can submit a TPD discharge application. When you apply for TPD discharge, you’ll need to provide a document that shows when the VA awarded you the disability determination.


Through the Social Security Administration (SSA)

You can apply for TPD discharge if you’re eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. For you to qualify this way, one of the following must be true:

  1. Your next continuing disability review has been scheduled within five to seven years from the date of your last SSA disability determination.
  2. Your next continuing disability review has been scheduled at three years.
  3. You have a medical onset date* for SSDI or SSI of at least five years before you apply for TPD discharge.
  4. You qualify for SSDI or SSI based on a compassionate allowance.
  5. You’re currently receiving SSA retirement benefits, and immediately before you qualified for retirement benefits, you met one of the requirements described in A–D above.

*Medical onset date refers to the official date your disability began. The SSA determines this date based on documentation in your case files.

Just because you receive SSDI or SSI benefits doesn’t mean you automatically get TPD discharge.

As we do with the VA, we work with the SSA to identify individuals who qualify for TPD discharge and will send you a letter if you’re eligible.

Didn’t receive a letter? If you believe you qualify based on an SSA disability determination, you can submit a TPD discharge application. You’ll need to provide either

  1. a copy of your SSA notice of award or
  2. your Benefits Planning Query.


Through a Medical Professional

Lastly, you can qualify for TPD discharge by getting a medical professional to certify Section 4 of your TPD application.

But it can’t be just any medical professional—only a few specific types of medical professionals can certify your disability for TPD discharge. These types are the following:

  • Doctor of medicine (MD)
  • Doctor of osteopathy/osteopathic medicine (DO)
  • Nurse practitioner (NP)
  • Physician’s assistant (PA)
  • Certified psychologist at the independent practice level

The medical professional who certifies your application must be licensed to practice in the United States.

The medical professional’s certification has to show a couple of things.

Firstly, it must show that you are “unable to engage in any substantial gainful activity.” This means that you can’t perform work for pay that involves doing significant physical or mental activities, or a combination of both.

Secondly, the medical professional must confirm that your inability to engage in substantial gainful activity is because of a physical or mental impairment (disability) that

  • can be expected to result in death,
  • has lasted for a continuous period of at least 5 years (60 months), or
  • can be expected to last for a continuous period of at least 5 years (60 months).

How to Apply

If you believe you qualify for a TPD discharge but haven’t gotten an automatic discharge letter, there are three ways to start applying:

  1. You can use the application wizard to auto-fill parts of your application.
  2. You can print out the application form and complete it by hand.
  3. You can request that an application be mailed to you by emailing DisabilityInformation@Nelnet.net or calling 1-888-303-7818. Office hours are Monday­–Wednesday, 8 a.m.–8 p.m. Eastern time (ET) and Thursday–Friday 8 a.m.–6 p.m. ET.

A caregiver or representative can apply on your behalf if it’s a challenge to complete an application by yourself. They just need to complete an Applicant Representative Designation form.

For all options, you’ll need to mail your completed form, along with any supporting documents, back to the U.S. Department of Education.

Mail your application to:

  • U.S. Department of Education – TPD Servicing
  • P.O. Box 87130
  • Lincoln, NE 68501-7130

For more information about TPD discharge—including eligibility, applications, and FAQs—check out the official TPD discharge website, DisabilityDischarge.com.