By: Robert Botnick
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What Happens With My VA Benefits If I Go To Jail?
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has the authority to lower or terminate your VA benefits, although termination occurs very rarely. If you’re a veteran receiving VA benefits, there may be implications for going to jail that go beyond fines, penalties, and incarceration.
VA Benefits: What Happens If You Go to Jail?
Jail has consequences for veterans, but short-term stints will have less of an impact than long-term sentences. Felony charges will result in the VA:
- Terminating disability benefits on the 61st day in jail, or
- Reducing benefits on the 61st day in jail
Reduction in Benefits
Reduced benefits are better than terminated benefits, and the VA will reduce benefits significantly even if you have a 20% or higher rating for a service-based disability. Benefits, not ratings, will be reduced by the following:
- 20% or higher ratings for a service-connected disability will have their benefits reduced to 10% each month.
- 10% ratings will have their monthly benefits reduced by 50%.
Benefits will be significantly lower while you’re incarcerated, but they will be reinstated when you’re released from jail or prison. Reinstatement will be to the full amount of the benefits prior to incarceration.
Misdemeanor or Felony Sentences and VA Pension
If you have a VA pension, you’ll also risk losing your pension if you go to jail. Any jail time that exceeds 60 days will automatically terminate your pension while you remain incarcerated. Upon being released, you can notify the VA of your release and your pension should be fully reinstated at this time.
What Happens for sentences of 60 Days or Less?
If the crime you commit leads to the following occurring within 60 days or less, your benefits will not be impacted:
- Sentence completion
- Work release program
- Sent to a Halfway house
Minor sentences will not impact your benefits.
Notify the VA of Your Sentence
The VA expects you to notify them if you have been sentenced to jail. Failure to notify them of your jail sentence will result in overpayment. If you’re found to be overpaid, the VA will expect you to pay the money back.
Repayment occurs by withholding your monthly benefits until the full amount has been satisfied. So, if you owe benefits when you’re released from jail, you still won’t receive your benefits until they’ve been repaid.
You will need to notify the VA of your release to have your benefits reinstated.
What Happens to Your Benefits While Awaiting Trial?
If you’re awaiting trial, your VA benefits will not be disrupted at this time. You are innocent until proven guilty, so changes to your benefits can only occur after a conviction. There are also times when a conviction is appealed and overturned.
The VA will provide retroactive disability payments for any amount that was withheld as a result of the conviction.
You will need to notify the VA if your appeal results in the conviction being overturned.
Note: VA pension payments will not be returned retroactively.
How Will My Family Survive Without My VA Benefits?
Benefits and/or pension may be reduced or terminated while you’re in jail, leaving your family to struggle as a result. If you have a family, they can apply for what is called “apportionment” with the VA.
For example, let’s assume that your benefits were cut to 10% when they’re normally 50%.
You’ll still receive the 10% while incarcerated, but if approved for apportionment, your family will receive the remaining 40% of your benefits. In this scenario, your family would receive their allotment directly.
When you’re released, the full benefit amounts will be returned to you and only you.
Applying for apportionment requires either your spouse, child or parents to contact the VA and apply. The application will be approved or denied based on financial need. Your family can expect to supply the following information to the VA:
- List of assets
- Income information
- Monthly expenses
If you have multiple dependents, the benefits will be divided among them by the VA.
Veterans have a lot of resources at their disposal that they should be using or at least know about. A few of the many resources include:
- Veterans Trauma Court (VTC). VTCs are offered on the state level and are funded by grants. A VTC offers an alternative to jail for vets or active-duty military members that have substance abuse or trauma spectrum disorders.
- Veterans Justice Outreach (VJO). A VJO will help connect veterans to services that can help keep them off the streets. VJO specialists can also help with finding community legal assistance programs.
If you or a loved one receives VA disability or other benefits and is in jail or will be going to jail, you need to hire a criminal attorney. Your attorney will fight on your behalf to ensure that your jail time will not impact your VA benefits or the benefits of a loved one.
Reach out right away to schedule a free consultation.