Most people who write their congressman get back a polite form letter.
But when the Bryski family of Marlton, N.J., contacted Rep. John Adler, D-N.J., last year with their story of tragedy, they got legislation drafted and introduced that, if enacted, would change the way millions of student loans are handled.
In 2004, Christopher Bryski was 23 and in college - a seemingly invulnerable varsity athlete - when he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a freak accident; he spent two years in a persistent vegetative state before dying. As brutal as it was for the Bryskis to lose a son and brother in this way, the event triggered a financial nightmare for them.
Because his father, Joseph Bryski Sr., had co-signed Christopher's student loans with several banks, the family was on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars, obligations that had been buried in fine print. So even while medical bills accumulated as Christopher lay in limbo, the student loans came due and the interest rate increased. The Bryskis struggled to keep up.
"The process was horrible," said mother Diane Bryski.
Direct student loans from the federal government are forgiven if the borrower dies or becomes incapacitated, but so-called private loans from banks that millions of students carry usually are not. And because Christopher had not signed a power-of-attorney document, his parents and brothers had no legal standing to negotiate payment terms, nor could they access his bank accounts to help pay off his student debt, rent and credit card bills.
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Family's Tragedy May Lead to New Law on Student Loans