According to the National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA), about one-third of Veterans admit that they have been arrested and booked into prison at least once. Unfortunately, these grim statistics appear to be another indicator of how challenging the transition back to civilian life can be for a Veteran.
The attempts to manage physical and mental impairments from combat, find employment, and discover a new purpose in life are often fraught with substance abuse and risky behavior as a form of coping mechanism. Unfortunately, it often results in arrest and incarceration.
Here at Veterans Claims United (VCU), we’re determined to help all Veterans, especially those who find themselves in difficult situations, get the most out of their well-deserved VA disability benefits and preserve them despite any hardships.
In this article, we’ll cover these 3 important topics in the event you are facing jail time:
1 – What happens to VA benefits if you get arrested and sent to prison
2 – How to ensure your dependents are taken care of
3 – In the event your VA benefits are discontinued, how to get them back upon release
What Happens to Your VA Benefits If You Get Arrested
The good news is that the VA (Department of Veterans Affairs) benefits will generally not be automatically affected or suspended solely based on the fact of arrest. This is because VA benefits are normally separate from the criminal justice system. Also, remember, you are innocent until proven guilty!
However, once a Veteran is convicted of a felony or imprisoned for more than 60 days, their VA benefits are then greatly affected. In this case, VA disability compensation payments may be reduced or suspended during the incarceration period. This reduction or suspension is based on the length of the sentence and the type of benefits received.
For example, if your VA disability rating is 20% or higher, your payments will be restricted to the benefits that have a 10% rating. If your VA disability rating is 10% or less, the payments are cut in half. Your VA benefits can be reinstated once you are released from incarceration.
There are a few other cases where arrest and incarceration may affect the VA Benefits directly or indirectly:
- Character of Discharge
Arrest and conviction of a serious offense may impact a Veteran`s discharge characterization from the military if they are still serving or are in the process of being discharged. A less-than-honorable discharge can affect a Veteran`s eligibility for certain VA benefits, such as the GI Bill education benefits.
- Benefit Overpayment
If a Veteran receives VA benefits while being incarcerated, and it is later determined that they were not entitled to those benefits during that period, the VA may consider this an “overpayment.” In such cases, the VA may attempt to recover the overpaid amount from future benefits or by other means.
- Participation in Specialized Programs
If a Veteran is participating in specialized programs offered by the VA, such as the Veterans Treatment Court or VA-funded substance abuse treatment programs, the participation and progress in these programs may be affected by the arrest, which can in turn can impact your benefits.
What Happens to Your VA Benefits if You Commit a Misdemeanor
Committing a misdemeanor usually does not directly impact a Veteran’s entitlement to VA disability compensation. However, while misdemeanors generally carry less severe consequences than felonies, they can still have consequences for Veterans who seek alternative housing or work release opportunities.
For example, misdemeanors usually do not disqualify a Veteran from participation in Work Release Programs, which are designed to allow incarcerated individuals to work in the community during the day and return to the correctional facility at night. However, certain offenses, such as violent misdemeanors or offenses related to the program`s restrictions (e.g., drug or alcohol-related offenses), may make a veteran ineligible for work release.
Another example is eligibility for placement to halfway houses, which are transitional living facilities that offer support and structure to individuals re-entering society after incarceration. The policies regarding misdemeanor convictions and how they affect placement into residential centers can differ among facilities and jurisdictions. Some halfway houses may accept Veterans with certain misdemeanor convictions, especially non-violent offenses, while others may have stricter criteria.
How Incarceration Affects VA Health and Education Benefits
Arrest and conviction will mainly affect your VA Health and Education Benefits. Here are some essential things every Veteran should know when facing a prison term:
- VA Health Benefits
Incarceration does not automatically terminate a Veteran`s eligibility for VA health care benefits. However, while in prison, they will generally receive medical care through the correctional facility’s health system and cannot be entitled to treatment from a VA provider or at a VA hospital. At the same time, once a Veteran is released from prison, they can instantly resume receiving VA healthcare services after contacting a local VA facility and updating their eligibility status.
- VA Education Benefits (GI Bill)
If a Veteran is using VA education benefits, such as the Post-9/11 GI Bill or Montgomery GI Bill, their education benefits will generally be suspended for the period of confinement. During this time, a Veteran will not receive monthly housing allowance payments or tuition assistance. However, after being released from prison, they can contact the VA with a corresponding inquiry, to reinstate and resume their Education Benefits eligibility.
How does the VA Learn About Your incarceration?
There are several ways for the VA to find out that a Veteran has been incarcerated and therefore, their VA benefits should be revised:
- Prison Notification
Most correctional facilities have procedures in place to notify government agencies, including the VA, about incarceration. This notification may be part of routine administrative processes within the prison system.
- Data Sharing with Other Government Agencies
Another option is the information-sharing agreements between the VA and other government agencies, such as the Department of Justice or state correctional authorities.
- Social Security Administration (SSA) Reporting
If the Veteran receives Social Security benefits, the SSA may be aware of their incarceration and share that information with the VA.
When applying for VA benefits or during their periodic updates, Veterans are asked to disclose any changes, such as changes in income, marital status, address, or incarceration status.
You Can You Apply for VA Benefits While in Prison
While incarcerated, Veterans can generally apply for VA benefits. However, you need to prepare for some unique circumstances and challenges if this is your case.
Technically, incarceration does not necessarily disqualify a Veteran from applying for or receiving VA benefits. However, confinement can and probably will complicate and delay the processing and approval of the application.
VA has specific eligibility requirements for different types of benefits, and meeting those requirements is essential for approval. The application process may involve providing documentation, medical records, service-related information, and other necessary evidence to establish eligibility.
If the Veteran`s service-connected disability worsens while they are incarcerated, they can also apply for an increase in their VA disability rating. The increase in rating will be based on the severity of the worsened condition and its impact on the Veteran`s ability to function. The process for applying for an increase in the disability rating is similar whether the Veteran is incarcerated or not. The Veteran should gather all relevant medical evidence supporting the worsening of their condition and submit it as part of their application.
However, as mentioned earlier, if the Veteran is incarcerated for more than 60 days, their disability compensation may be reduced or suspended. The reduction is based on the number of dependents the Veteran has. Once released from prison, they can request a reevaluation of their disability rating if they believe their condition has worsened during the period of incarceration.
Naturally, incarceration will make the process of collecting the required documentation and meeting with VA representatives much more challenging. However, the staff of a correctional facility can help you seek professional assistance from qualified experts to help navigate the application process.
Needless to say, here at VCU we regularly see how Veterans tend to struggle with the application process under normal circumstances, and while incarcerated, you may be in even more urgent need of qualified guidance.
VA Apportionment: Supporting Your Family While You Are in Prison
VA apportionment is a process through which a portion of a Veteran’s VA benefits, including disability compensation, can be paid directly to a dependent family member or legal guardian.
It can come into play in cases when a Veteran is unable to manage their own finances or when it is determined to be in the best interest of the dependent. Incarceration applies to these circumstances.
If a Veteran gets convicted, VA apportionment may be considered if there are dependents who rely on their benefits. The decision to award apportionment is made by the VA on a case-by-case basis, considering factors such as the dependent’s financial needs and Vetran`s ability to provide support while incarcerated.
The purpose of apportionment is to ensure that a Veteran`s dependent’s basic needs are met during the period of their incarceration. The amount apportioned is determined based on the individual circumstances of the case. The VA may reduce the benefit payment and allocate a portion directly to the dependent.
For example, if the disability is rated at 70% before incarceration, the monthly benefit will be reduced to 10%. However, if a Veteran`s dependents request apportionment, they can receive the remaining 60%. When a Veteran is released, they will be paid the full amount of the benefits.
How to Apply for VA Apportionment
Apportionment is not granted automatically – It requires a formal application process. The dependent or the legal guardian must submit an application for apportionment to the VA, providing relevant documentation and demonstrating the need for the apportioned benefits.
While reviewing the apportionment application, the VA will look into such factors as the dependency status and relationship of the claimants to the incarcerated Veteran, the impact of the Veteran`s incarceration on the well-being of their dependents, length of incarceration, and the overall criminal record of the Veteran.
If dependents are receiving other benefits, such as Social Security benefits or survivor benefits, the VA may offset the apportionment amount based on these benefits considering them a source of income. However, the VA will thoroughly investigate the financial state of the dependents before making the final decision. That is why it is vital to collect and submit all the documentation and evidence that can resolve the case in the dependents` favor.
Each case is evaluated individually, and the VA will make the decision on apportionment based on the specific circumstances presented by the dependents.
A Guide to Handling Your VA Benefits While in Prison
Here is how to ensure that the VA benefits are handled appropriately in case you go to prison.
- Notify the VA
It is crucial to promptly notify the VA about your impending incarceration. You can do it by contacting the nearest VA Regional Office or the VA facility where you receive care. It can help prevent potential overpayments or complications in the future.
- Provide Documentation to the VA
Provide the VA with any documentation related to your incarceration, such as the dates of confinement, the location of the correctional facility, and any relevant legal documents. This information will assist the VA in making accurate adjustments to your benefits.
- Designate a Fiduciary
If you are facing a prolonged prison term or believe you may have difficulty managing your benefits during this time, you should consider designating a fiduciary. A fiduciary is a person appointed by the VA to handle the Veteran’s financial affairs and ensure the appropriate use of their benefits. You can request the appointment of a fiduciary by contacting the VA or working with a Veterans Service Officer (VSO).
- Keep in Contact with the VA
Make sure to maintain communication with the VA while being incarcerated, especially if there are any changes in your circumstances, such as changes in release dates or in financial situations. Staying in contact with the VA will help ensure a smooth transition and prevent any unnecessary delays in benefit reinstatement after release.
- Seek Assistance from a VSO and qualified legal professionals
Consider seeking guidance from a Veterans Service Officer or an attorney specializing in veterans’ benefits. Here at VCU, we know how important it can be to get personalized advice, assistance with the application process, and help in navigating challenges or complications that may arise in the process of handling your VA benefits while in prison.
These steps can help ensure that your VA benefits are handled appropriately during your incarceration and contribute to the reinstatement of benefits upon release.
It is important to remember that laws and regulations may vary or change over time, depending on your circumstances and due to many factors. That is why consulting with professionals familiar with your process of claiming benefits is crucial for making informed decisions about handling your VA benefits during and after imprisonment.
What Happens to Your VA benefits if You Become a Fugitive Felon
According to the VA’s regulations, if a Veteran is considered a fugitive felon, their VA benefits may be suspended or denied. This applies to various VA benefits, including disability compensation, pension benefits, and education benefits such as the GI Bill.
You may be considered a fugitive felon if you are fleeing from the law or have an outstanding arrest warrant for a felony offense. It’s important to note that the specific criteria and procedures regarding the suspension or denial of benefits for fugitive felons are outlined in the VA regulations, and individual circumstances may vary. In other words, only an experienced professional who knows the details of your case can say what exactly will happen to your VA benefits once you become a fugitive felon.
However, a Veteran can still address the issue and potentially regain eligibility for benefits. It typically requires resolving the legal situation, such as addressing the outstanding warrant or resolving the felony charges.
A person stops being a fugitive felon after:
- Dismissal of charges
- A court order that you are no longer a fugitive
In this case, a Veteran and their dependents become eligible for VA benefits again.
Professional legal assistance can be vital in this case, as navigating such a complex situation may require some extensive knowledge of local legislation and VA benefits processing as well as a deep understanding of your circumstances.
A Guide to Restoring your VA Benefits After Being Released from Prison
Upon completion of a Veteran’s prison sentence, the VA will resume disability benefits at their usual level. This means that if you were rated at 70% disability before going to prison, and your benefits were reduced to 10% during the incarceration period, you will receive the original 70% rating upon your release.
Here is how to ensure a smooth and seamless transition of your VA Benefits in this case:
- Contact the VA
Notify the VA about your release from prison by contacting the nearest VA Regional Office or the VA facility where you receive care. Informing the VA about the change in circumstances will initiate the process of reinstating your benefits.
- Provide Documentation
You will need to provide the VA with documentation confirming your release from prison. This may include documentation from the correctional facility, parole or probation documents, or any other official records indicating your release.
- Update Personal Information
Make sure that your personal information, such as address and contact details, is updated with the VA. This is crucial for instant communication and preventing any delays in the reinstatement process.
- Attend VA Appointments
Schedule and attend all the necessary appointments with the VA, such as medical examinations or eligibility reviews. This will allow the VA to assess your current status and determine the appropriate benefits to reinstate.
- Review Eligibility and Benefit Programs
You may need to review your eligibility status and reapply for certain benefit programs, depending on the specific benefits you receive. For example, if you are using education benefits like the GI Bill, you may need to reapply for those benefits to resume your studies.
- Seek Out Qualified Assistance
It is always best to consult qualified professionals who will help you make informed decisions and caution you against any rash steps that may complicate your case. These professionals can guide you through the process, help gather the necessary documentation, and advocate on your behalf to ensure a smooth reinstatement of benefits.
Arrest, and even more so, incarceration, can result in a reduction, and even a termination, of your VA disability benefits. And while you may be managing critical issues when facing a prison term, it is essential not to let things slide regarding your benefits and ensure you know your rights and what you are entitled to.
If you have any questions about getting your VA benefits, restoring them after incarceration, or receiving the maximum VA disability benefits you have earned in years of honorable service, please contact one of VCU’s Veteran Specialists. Our team will study your case thoroughly, answer all your questions, and guide you and your family through the whole process of claiming and restoring VA disability benefits.