Law Articles

Will a Criminal Conviction Affect Your Veteran's (VA) Benefits?
By Heather R. Straub

Courtesy of

With 2.3 million veterans having served in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, now more than ever, veterans need to understand the legal and financial consequences if they are found guilty of criminal convictions. This basic guide explains how convictions can affect veterans' benefits.

Will my VA Disability Compensation stop if I go to prison?
No. Your VA disability compensation payments will be REDUCED if you are convicted of a felony or misdemeanor and imprisoned for OVER 60 days (61+). Veterans rated 20 percent or more disabled are limited to the 10 percent disability rate during that time. If the vet’s disability rating is 10 percent, the payment is reduced by one-half. Once released from jail/prison, the veteran’s compensation payments may be reinstated based upon the severity of the service-connected disability or disabilities at that time. See for the VA rate table.

What if I do my time in work release instead of prison?
Payments are not reduced for recipients participating in work release programs, residing in halfway houses, or under community control.

Can my spouse, kids, or dependent parents get the money I’m not getting while I’m in prison?
VA can take all or part of the benefits you are not receiving and give it to your spouse, children, or dependent parents based on individual need, called “apportionment.” Your dependent(s) should contact the nearest VA regional office for details on how to apply. The dependent/claimant will need to provide income information as part of the application. In determining individual need, the VA will consider factors such as income, living expenses, the amount of compensation available to be apportioned, the needs and living expenses of other claimants, as well as any special needs, if any, of all claimants. Note: Keep the VA updated as to your incarceration status and the contact information for all dependents. Remember, the VA does not automatically apportion out money to your dependent -- they MUST claim.

Will my VA pension stop if I go to prison?
If you were receiving a disability pension, your pension payment will stop the 61st day of your imprisonment following conviction of a felony or misdemeanor. You need to notify the Department of Veterans Affairs Regional Office immediately after you are incarcerated. If you do not notify VA and receive an overpayment, you could lose all payments until the debt is repaid. Payments may be resumed upon release from prison if you meet VA eligibility requirements, but it is not automatic. You must apply for them yourself upon your release.

I’m getting VA benefits to go to college. What happens to my education benefits if I’m convicted of a crime?
If you are entitled to receive VA benefits, you can receive full monthly benefits even if convicted of a crime, as long as it is not a felony. For instance, if the veteran is convicted of a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor, he or she can still receive full monthly educational benefit from the VA, (although other educational benefits from other sources may or may not be impacted). Also, convicted felons residing in halfway houses or work-release can receive full monthly benefits. • Veterans incarcerated for a felony conviction can be paid only the costs of tuition, fees, and necessary books, equipment, and supplies. • VA cannot make payments for tuition, fees, books, equipment, or supplies if another Federal, State, or local program pays these costs in full. • If another government program pays only a part of the cost of tuition, fees, books, equipment, or supplies, VA can authorize the incarcerated claimant/veteran payment for the remaining part of the costs.

I’m out of prison now and I want to start getting my benefits again. How do I make that happen?
The VA will not restart your benefits until they receive official notification of your release from incarceration. Your application can be processed faster if you bring it to a VA Regional Office after your release. Be sure to bring an official document (discharge paper, parole agreement/order) that shows the date of your release. You may also mail the application to your VA Regional Office. Be sure to include a photocopy of any official document that shows the date of your release.

I’ve been out of prison for awhile, but I haven’t claimed my benefits yet. Is it too late for those back benefits?
Your award for compensation or pension benefits can resume the date of release from incarceration if the VA receives notice of release WITHIN ONE YEAR following release. If you notify the VA MORE than one year after release, your benefits will be resumed the date VA receives notice of your release. Depending on the type of disability, the VA may schedule you for a medical exam to see if your disability has improved. You will need to visit or call your local Department of VA Regional Office for assistance. • You may file for/receive these benefits while on parole. Notify your parole officer of any pension or compensation income. • You may file for/receive these benefits while you are in a work-release program, residing in a halfway house, or under community control. Notify your case manager in community corrections of any pension or compensation income. Source: VA website
If you need help, please email or call (253) 363-9703 today.