Besides the events that landed you in jail, worrying about your VA disability if you pick up a felony should be the least of your problems.
Veterans represent 8% of the U.S. prison population. About 31% of veterans responding to a survey have been arrested and booked. This is a considerably higher percentage than the 18% of civilian respondents.
There is a higher incidence of incarceration for veterans from the post-1973 volunteer period than those drafted. Veterans with general and honorable discharge papers may have a felony conviction. A criminal record may impact your compensation, but does not permanently prevent you from receiving VA benefits.
If you have a criminal record can you receive disability benefits? The short answer is yes. Keep reading for more details about your benefits with a criminal record and how to obtain the benefits you are entitled to.
In This Article About VA Disability Rules If You Get a Felony:
- Will I Lose My Disability if I Go to Prison?
- My Spouse, Kids, or Dependent Parents Rely on My Income
- Felony Warrant or Felony Fugitive
- VA Benefits for Re-Entry After Incarceration
- Incarceration Impact and Other Benefits
- Does Social Security Disability Affect VA Disability?
- Denial of State Benefits
- Applying for Disability After Incarceration
- File for Your Disability Even If You Have a Criminal Record
Will I Lose My Disability if I Go to Prison?
There will be a reduction in benefits if your felony conviction results in incarceration longer than sixty (60) days. If you have a 20% or higher disability rating, your compensation will reduce to 10%. If you have a 10% rating, you will have a 50% decrease in your compensation.
Do not try to hide your imprisonment from the VA. You are obligated to advise the VA Regional Office immediately upon incarceration.
You may lose the ability to receive compensation if you do not let the VA know your status. If you receive an overpayment it will need to be repaid before reinstatement of benefits. If you are on work release or in a halfway house your compensation will not change.
Upon your release from prison or jail, your compensation payments will be reinstated. The compensation level will be based on the severity of your disability at the time of reinstatement. Reinstatement is not automatic; you must apply following your release.
When applying for reinstatement, you will need to submit your application to the VA Regional Office. You will need official documentation. This includes your discharge paperwork, parole agreement, or order of probation.
The documentation must show your date of release. Make sure all documents are complete and prevent delays by contacting a VA benefits attorney for assistance.
You want to request your reinstatement within twelve months of your release. If you file within 12 months, your benefits will be retroactive to your date of release. If you file beyond that time period, your benefits will become active on the date of your filing.
My Spouse, Kids, or Dependent Parents Rely on My Income
If your family members need your income during your imprisonment, they can apply for apportionment benefits. This means that the VA will send either part of all of your benefits to them during your confinement.
The family member applying for apportionment will need to provide the VA with income information. The VA will consider living expenses, income, and compensation available for apportionment. They will also look at any special needs when making their determination.
Apportionment benefits are not automatic. The appropriate family member must apply to receive these benefits.
Felony Warrant or Felony Fugitive
The Fugitive Felon Program (FFP) prohibits the VA from providing health care services, medication, or any other care in the community to a veteran or beneficiary who is a fugitive felon. The VA identifies any person as a fugitive if they:
- Flee to avoid custody, confinement, or prosecution for a felony crime, or if they attempt to commit a felony in the jurisdiction they flee from
- Violate a condition of parole or probation for a felony conviction under state or federal law
You may receive notice regarding termination of benefits due to fugitive felony status. If this happens, contact the issuing agency under the following circumstances:
- An error such as mistaken identity
- The warrant should have been canceled
- A resolution through arrest or surrender previously took place
- Any other reason to resolve the warrant
You will need to provide information to your VA office regarding the resolution of the warrant. Whenever you encounter VA benefit problems, it is always beneficial to consult with a VA attorney.
Your attorney will know the steps to assist you in getting your benefits restored through the VA. They can also help you with your reapplication or appeal.
Here one of our VA disability lawyers goes over the questions Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm, is often asked about veterans’ disability claims and appeals.
VA Benefits for Re-Entry After Incarceration
Re-establishing your disability benefits is only the first step. There are many other government benefits for felons. The Veterans Administration offers programs for those involved in the criminal justice system.
Health Care for Re-Entry Veterans (HCRV)
The HCRV program works with veterans and performs a pre-release assessment. This helps the veteran develop a plan of action for reintegrating into society. After being released from incarceration, the HCRV provides short-term case management.
The program provides veterans with referrals. This allows them access to necessary services. Referrals include medical care, social services, employment services, and mental health care.
The goal of the HCRV is to assist veterans in a manner that prevents them from becoming homeless.
Veteran Justice Outreach Initiative (VJO)
The VJO helps veterans suffering from mental illness avoid criminalization and incarceration. They provide access to VA mental health care services and substance abuse programs.
VJO specialists also assist eligible veterans already in the criminal justice system. They help those veterans obtain access to VA Health Administration services. The VJO also directs veterans to other services they may be eligible to receive.
The majority of veterans that receive assistance are imprisoned for a non-violent crime. Forty-five percent of those have two or more state prison sentences.
Sixty percent of inmates in U.S. jails have mental health problems. Only 1 out of every 6 veterans receives post-incarceration mental health treatment.
In this video, one of our VA disability lawyers talks about the VA Rating Formula for Mental Disorders and Disabilities like PTSD.
Psychiatric disorders can contribute to criminal behavior. This includes bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). There are about 300,000 veterans who served in Afghanistan or Iraq with depression or PTSD.
The VA and several other non-profit organizations are working to help veterans with PTSD manage it well. There are other organizations that work specifically with incarcerated veterans. They work as advocates, counselors, family representatives, and legal advisors.
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Your felony conviction does not need to be the result of a mental health condition for you to maintain benefits. Approximately 82% of veterans in jail or prison are eligible for VA services.
The best course of action is to speak with a VA attorney about your eligibility. They will know what you may qualify for and assist you with your application.
Incarceration Impact and Other Benefits
Disability income is not the only benefit your incarceration will impact. Other benefits you receive can also be affected.
VA Pension and Being in Incarcerated
If you are receiving a pension when you begin incarceration, the termination of your pension will take place on the 61st day of imprisonment. Upon your release, your pension payments may resume if you meet the eligibility requirements.
You are obligated to immediately notify the VA of your incarceration. Failure to notify may result in a loss of all VA benefits if an overpayment occurs. You will not receive any benefits until the overpayment is paid back in full.
In this video, one of our clients that was in the Navy didn’t realize the ringing in his ears was a VA disability until long after his service.
If your incarceration is for anything other than a felony, you will receive the full monthly benefits you are entitled to. Felony convictions on a work-release program or in a halfway house allow you to receive full benefits.
While in prison or jail for a felony conviction, you will only receive the cost of fees, tuition, necessary books, equipment, and supplies. The VA will not make a payment on any of these needs if any other local, federal, or state program pays those costs in full. If another program covers only part of these costs, the VA may authorize the remaining portion to be paid on your behalf.
Help for the Homeless
About 18% of incarcerated veterans were homeless the year before their arrest. There is a Homeless Outreach Coordinator at each VA Regional Office.
The coordinator will advise you on what benefits you qualify to receive and will assist you in applying for benefits. They will also provide you with referrals to other resources and organizations that may be able to assist you.
Here, one of our VA disability lawyers talks about what we do when we appeal your case to the Veteran’s Administration.
Does Social Security Disability Affect VA Disability?
You are able to receive disability payments from Social Security and VA. The programs, procedures, and qualification criteria are different within each organization. Veterans with a 100% permanent and total (P&T) compensation rating may obtain expedited processing of their Social Security disability benefits application.
Because of the differences in the two programs, a veteran with a 100% P&T rating may not qualify for disability through Social Security. Social Security requirements for disability include:
- Your medical condition is expected to last a minimum of one year or result in death
- Your medical condition prevents you from performing substantial work
Your VA disability compensation will not affect your ability to obtain Social Security benefits if you meet their qualifications.
Denial of State Benefits
Many states have ended restrictions for those with a felony drug conviction to receive public assistance. The removal of SNAP benefit restrictions has made the transition from incarceration easier.
In some states, those restrictions are severe, including lifetime bans. West Virginia and Mississippi have removed their lifetime bans on benefits, as have Washington D.C., the Virgin Islands, and 22 other states. Some states have made their restrictions less severe than full removal.
In 1996 the enactment of the new welfare reform legislation made tens of thousands of people ineligible for programs such as SNAP and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The legislation gave states the ability to opt out of the restrictions and provide for their residents. The majority of states decided to have lesser restrictions.
Persons leaving incarceration meet obstacles in obtaining employment, housing, and emotional trauma. The humane approach is to provide them with assistance during the transition period.
Many Veterans confuse denial of state benefits due to a criminal conviction with their ability to obtain VA disability benefits. The two have no connection, and VA benefits are available to you with a general or honorable discharge.
Applying for Disability After Incarceration
If you believe you are eligible for VA disability compensation, the first step is to complete your application. You will need to gather all relevant evidence of your disability to provide with your application. You want to fill out the application completely to lower your risk of denial.
Documentation and records you need to submit with your claim include:
- VA medical records
- VA hospital records relative to your disability
- Private medical and hospital records relative to your disability
- Supporting statements from family, friends, clergy, law enforcement, employers, etc. who can support your claim regarding a disability
- DD214 or other separation documents
- Service treatment records
After gathering all the information and completing your application, you have the option of filing by mail or in person. Under certain circumstances, you may also submit your application online.
After submitting your application, you will need to wait to be contacted by the VA. They may contact you for additional information or schedule a medical exam.
If nothing additional is necessary, you may receive a determination. The average disability claim takes approximately 153 days to complete.
For the best chance of having your application receive approval, contact Woods and Woods, the Veteran’s Firm. We have the knowledge and experience to work on your application or appeal through the entire process.
Your attorney will make sure the information and documents are complete and meet VA expectations. Free application assistance is always available, and in the event of a denial, we will be able to assist you with your appeal.
File for Your Disability Even If You Have a Criminal Record
If you have a criminal record, don’t let that stop you from getting the benefits you deserve. Here at Woods and Woods, The Veteran’s Firm, we have been helping veterans obtain VA disability benefits since 1985. We provide application assistance for free; you only pay us if we win.
If you have been denied VA disability benefits, our attorneys have experience in the VA appeal process. Whether a new applicant, applying for reinstatement after incarceration or filing an appeal, we can help. We’ve been adding staff and lawyers during the Covid pandemic to better serve disabled veterans in difficult times.
Call us today to discuss your VA disability appeal or your first application. The call is free and we won’t charge you a single fee until we win your case. We even pay for the postage for all of the documentation you send to our office. You can look for a VA disability attorney near you or call us and join the thousands of veterans living off of VA disability thanks to Woods and Woods.
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Frequently Asked Questions
Yes. If you are able to work as his or her POA, or if we can get mail and signatures to them and back, we can work on their case. Give us a call and let’s talk about what the first steps should be to work on your claim.
No. Your status as a felon or ex-felon doesn’t affect your VA disability rating at all, unless you are a fugitive on the run. Some states have lifetime bans from some benefits after a felony, but the VA works on the federal level and doesn’t have lifetime bans like that. Let’s start working on your claim!