Can the VA Stop or Lower My Disability Benefits If I Go to Jail?

If you're incarcerated, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) will sometimes reduce or terminate your disability benefits.

By , J.D. · The Colleges of Law

Many veterans face significant challenges when transitioning back to civilian life. Common barriers include difficulties with finding employment, managing physical impairments from combat, or getting treatment for mental health conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some vets struggle with substance abuse or risky behaviors as a way of coping with these challenges, which can result in arrest or incarceration.

What Happens to Your VA Benefits If You Go to Jail?

The VA can pay benefits to veterans who are incarcerated, but the amount of payment is reduced depending on the type of benefit and the reason for incarceration.

Receiving Your VA Disability Check While In Jail

The VA will reduce your disability compensation payments if:

  • you've been convicted of a felony, and
  • you're imprisoned for more than 60 days.

If your VA disability rating is 20% or more, during your incarceration, your payments will be limited to the amount of benefits available for people with a 10% rating. If your VA disability rating is 10% or less, the amount of your payments will be reduced by half.

After you're released from jail, the VA will resume sending your benefits at your usual level.

Receiving Your VA Pension While In Jail

The VA will terminate your pension payments after 60 days of imprisonment, whether you've been convicted of a felony or a misdemeanor. You can have your pension benefits reinstated once you've been released from prison, provided that you meet VA eligibility requirements.

VA Health and Education Benefits

Some VA benefits, such as health or education benefits, may not be affected by incarceration. For example, veterans don't lose their eligibility for VA health care while in jail, but they can't get treatment from a VA provider or at a VA hospital until they're released from prison. (Any medical care you receive while incarcerated is provided by your state's department of corrections.)

Veterans who are eligible for education benefits can continue to receive some benefits—such as tuition, fees, books, and supplies—even if they've been convicted of a felony (unless the costs are already being paid by another governmental program). But veterans who've been convicted of a misdemeanor can continue to receive the full monthly education benefit, which can include a housing allowance or the cost of a licensing or certification exam.

What Happens to Your Disability Check When You Go to Jail?

Although your VA pension check will be terminated or your disability compensation reduced while you are in jail, your family (spouse, children, and parents) can apply to have the benefits paid to them instead. The VA calls this apportionment.

Your family can receive your VA pension benefits and any amount of your disability compensation that's reduced while you're in jail. For example, if you're rated at 70% disability before going to jail, your monthly benefit will get reduced to 10%. But your family can apply for apportionment to receive the remaining 60%. Once you're released, you'll again receive the full amount of your benefits directly.

To apply for apportionment of your benefits, your family must use VA Form 21-0788, Information Regarding Apportionment of Beneficiary's Award. They must provide information about their income, assets, and expenses. The VA will divide the apportioned amount among your dependents according to their financial need.

What Happens to My VA Benefits If I'm Arrested?

Veterans receiving VA disability benefits who are arrested for a crime and awaiting trial won't have their benefits affected. Because you're innocent until proven guilty, the VA can't reduce or terminate your benefits without a conviction. So just getting charged with a crime won't have an impact on your benefits.

When Will the VA Stop or Reduce My Benefits?

The VA will reduce or terminate your disability benefits on your 61st day of incarceration. If you've completed your sentence, been paroled, or sent to a halfway house or work release program within 60 days of being incarcerated, your benefits won't be affected.

If you have a VA pension, on your 61st day in jail, your pension will be terminated for the duration of your prison sentence.

How to Handle Your VA Benefits After a Felony or Misdemeanor Conviction

If you're a veteran who's been convicted of a crime, you'll want to make sure that your VA benefits are handled appropriately during your sentence, and that you'll have them reinstated once your incarceration has ended.

Notify the VA of Your Jail Sentence

Make sure you notify the VA when you go to jail. Otherwise, any payments of disability compensation over 10% and any pension payments made to you will be considered overpayments. You'll have to pay this money back to the VA. After you get out of jail, the VA will withhold your monthly check until the full amount of the overpayment has been satisfied.

In order to avoid the hassle of overpayments, you should tell the VA that you're in jail and let your family receive the money until you're released, when you'll resume getting the benefits directly.

If Your Conviction is Overturned on Appeal

If your conviction is overturned on appeal, the disability compensation benefits that were withheld during your incarceration will be restored to you.l. In order to receive a retroactive payment, you'll need to notify the VA of your successful appeal.

VA pension payments aren't restored to you after a conviction is overturned, however.

And if your family received apportioned benefits, you won't get any repayment of those amounts.

Let the VA Know When You've Been Released

You can notify the VA within 30 days of your anticipated release in order to get your benefits resumed, if you provide evidence of your scheduled release date (such as a statement from the parole board or official prison source.)

Your entitlement to VA benefits resumes on the date your incarceration has ended, so long as you notify them within one year following your release. After one year, your entitlement to benefits will resume on the date the VA receives notice of your release, so you should notify the VA as soon as possible to avoid missing out on payments.

What If I'm a Fugitive Felon?

The VA considers you a fugitive felon when you flee law enforcement to avoid prosecution or imprisonment for a felony or if you violate your probation or parole terms. Fugitive felons—and their families—can't receive any benefits from the VA, including disability compensation, pension, education benefits, life insurance, medical care, and apportionment.

After you stop being a fugitive felon, you and your family are again eligible for cash benefits. You stop being a fugitive felon after your outstanding warrant is cleared by:

  • arrest
  • surrender
  • dismissal of charges, or
  • court document showing you are no longer a fugitive.

If you think you were erroneously identified as a fugitive felon, you need to contact the law enforcement agency responsible for issuing the original warrant and explain why it was issued in error. Evidence that the warrant has been cleared should then be provided to your local VA.

More Information for Veterans

To learn about other circumstances where the VA can make changes to a veteran's benefits, read our article on when the VA can reduce disability benefits.

If you're a veteran struggling with PTSD who was arrested but you haven't yet been convicted of a crime, read our article on help for veterans suffering from PTSD who are accused of crimes.

And if you're considering getting help from an attorney to resolve your criminal arrest or conviction, see our section on getting a criminal defense attorney.

Updated May 2, 2023

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