I’m directing your attention to a pretty compelling article co-published by ProPublica.com and The Chronicle of Higher Education: Education Department Backs Away From Fix to Help Disabled Student Borrowers.

The Reader’s Digest Condensed Version (“I Am Joe’s Attention Span”):

Using the case of Donita McDonald, who entered college in 2006 before having to leave it in 2009 for complicated mental health reasons, the article looks at the difficulties students have in getting student loans forgiven for health reasons.

McDonald suffered from panic attacks and episodes of psychosis which lead to a diagnosis of severe mental illness. When her mother attempted to work with the Department of Education to get McDonald’s roughly $24,000 worth of student loans forgiven, she sort of fell into this (I was going to say “crazy” but stopped myself because: seriously, Mike?) maelstrom of competing interests and beauracratic red tape that ultimately seemed to settle on: Your daughter who is considered severely disabled by Social Security still owes that money.

The article brings up some interesting questions, I think, and is worth your time. The Student Loan Machine, I think, is supposed to work a little like this: You take the loans to get the education necessary to earn a salary that makes paying back said loan (+ interest; we can’t forget the interest) feasible. In McDonald’s case: she’s going to have a tough time going back to college. She’s stepped away from the machine, so to speak.

Still: should McDonald (and, really, McDonald’s family) not be responsible for the loans? Or, say she accepted $24,000 in loans, but only used, say, $15,000 of it: should she be responsible for giving back that $9,000?

The question has a mercernary tone to it — but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be asked. The article tries to skirt around this issue by assuming that of course that kind of debt should be totally forgiven, and spends some time exploring the broken system the Department of Education has in place for processing disability claims for forgiven loans. Just because that system’s broken, though, doesn’t seem (to me at any rate) to also mean that the process being supported by the broken system — i.e., loan forgiveness — is necessarily the right move either.

It’s possible I’m wrong. It’s sort of my speciality. If you feel up to it, drop a comment below letting me know if I’m off the mark, or if there are aspects of this I haven’t considered.

(Oh, and stick around for the comments at the end of the article — or, at least, this comment from someone using the name Barry Schmittou, which opens with “Butchered chickens are treated better than disabled humans in the U.S. !!” Because nothing works better for an argument like hyperbole. Thanks for keeping it real, Barry Schmittou!)