Military Law

Conviction Effect on VA Benefits

Are you a veteran who's been convicted of a crime? Many veterans receive benefits for their military service. The benefits are provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). VA benefits include disability compensation, pensions and education benefits. But can these benefits be put at risk if you have a conviction?

VA Disability Compensation

Disability compensation is provided to veterans for injuries connected to their military service. The compensation depends on the percentage that you're disabled. The amount is reduced when you have a felony conviction and prison sentence of more than 60 days. A felony is a criminal offense that's punishable by death or more than one year in prison.

If you're 20 percent or more disabled, your compensation drops to the 10 percent disability rate. If you're 10 percent disabled, your compensation drops to the 5 percent disability rate. Upon release from prison, your compensation may be reinstated based on your condition.

VA Pension

You may receive a pension from the VA. For this pension type, a service-related disability isn't a factor. However, your family income must be below a certain level, you must have served at least 1 day during wartime and you must be age 65 or older, or have a permanent and total disability.

VA pension plan will stop 61 days after you're imprisoned. The conviction can be for either a felony or a misdemeanor crime. A misdemeanor is a criminal offense that's punishable by a fine or less than one year in prison. Payments can resume when you're released.

VA Education benefits

VA education benefits help pay for college for veterans. You can receive full education benefits in prison if you aren't convicted of a felony. If you're in prison for a felony, you'll only receive payment for tuition costs, fees and necessary school supplies. Full benefits can be paid if you're in a work-release program or live in a halfway house.

Apportionment of Compensation

Do you have a family to support? The compensation you lose for being incarcerated can be given, or apportioned, to your spouse, children or dependent parents. The family members file an apportionment claim with the VA. The VA determines how much to pay for each claim. Factors the VA looks at include:

  • Claimant's income and expenses 
  • Other claimants' income and expenses 
  • Claimants' special needs 
  • The total amount available to be apportioned

The VA notifies potential claimants of their apportionment rights. A claimant loses this right if he or she is also in prison for a felony. 

VA Re-Entry Benefits

Are you rejoining the community after prison? Trouble re-entering society after a stay in prison is common. The VA offers veterans a chance to enter the Healthcare for Re-Entry Veterans (HCRV) program. This program provides counseling and assistance. The goals are to prevent homelessness, reduce the likelihood of committing future crimes and reduce mental and substance abuse problems.

The HCRV provides several services, including:

  • Outreach and pre-release assessment services while you're in prison
  • Referrals to medical, psychiatric and social services
  • Referrals to employment services for job search help

Questions for Your Attorney

  • What are the advantages of having an attorney help me receive my VA benefits?
  • What happens if I am convicted of a crime in another country?
  • Can I prevent a family member from receiving compensation from my VA benefits while I am in prison?
  • How do payments resume once I'm released?
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