Can I apply for VA benefits while incarcerated?

Yes. Although your eligibility for VA benefits may be limited or cut off during incarceration, there are various VA benefits you can apply for while incarcerated. There are certain benefits you can apply for and receive in full while incarcerated; and there are certain other benefits you should start applying for while incarcerated so that you can access them immediately upon your release. Information about some of these benefits is provided below. Contact the VA at 1-800-827-1000 (TDD 1-800-829-4833) for further details.

Overview of VA benefits You Can (& Can’t) Apply for While Incarcerated:

VA Benefits You CAN Apply for:

VA Benefits You CAN’T Apply For:

    Service-related disability compensation, disability pensions, dependency benefits, and death benefits[1773]
    Apportionment of benefits if incarcerated for a non-felony. This means you can ask the VA to pay your dependent(s) some or all of the benefits that you can’t receive while incarcerated.[1774] You or your dependent(s) must complete VA Form 21-0788 (see Appendix K, on PG. 536)[1775] and submit it to a VA Regional Office.[1776]
    You CAN apply for education benefits while incarcerated:
    For a non-felony, you can get full monthly education benefits.[1777]
    For a felony, you can get benefits to cover the costs of your tuition, fees, and necessary books and supplies—if no other government program is covering these costs.[1778]
    You can’t apply for or receive any non-service-related pension benefits while incarcerated for a felony.

Pre-release steps for securing VA health care (& other benefits):

    Meet with your region’s Re-entry Specialist. Every region of the U.S. has a VA Re-entry Specialist who can help determine your eligibility for VA benefits. He/she can also help you enroll, restart disability benefits, getting your DD-214 (explained below), and connecting you with services. Your region’s Re-entry Specialist should be scheduled to visit your facility at least yearly.
    Enroll with the VA. Do this by visiting with a Re-entry Specialist, OR by submitting a VA Form 10-10EZ by mail (see copy of form in Appendix L, PG. 536). If your release date is within 6 months and you haven’t seen a Re-entry Specialist, enroll by mail to ensure timely access to services. To request a form, write to a VA Enrollment Office near your place of release (directory online at http://www.va.gov/directory/guide), and mail back your completed form with “VA Enrollment” written on the envelope.
    Get a copy of your “DD-214: Report of Separation.” Have this ready before release. This is your proof of military service, and it’s a key to your access to job opportunities, community resources, and health care. To request your DD-214, write to: National Personnel Records Center; 1 Archives Drive; St. Louis, MO 63136.
    File for service-related disability compensation or disability pension, if that applies to you.[1779]

VA programs that can help you plan & navigate reentry:

    Health Care for Re-entry Veterans offers outreach, support, and information to veterans in state or federal prison who are at risk of homelessness upon release. To reach an HCRV Specialist near you, call VA’s health care line (1-877-222-8387); or check the directory on HCRV’s online page.[1780]
    Veterans Justice Outreach offers outreach, support, and information to veterans who are under arrest, under supervision of treatment courts, or in county jail and at risk of homelessness upon release. To reach a VJO Specialist near you, call VA’s health care line (1-877-222-8387); or check the directory on VJO’s online page.[1781]
    Homeless Veterans Outreach (HVO) offers outreach, support, and information to veterans who are involved in the criminal justice system. HVO can help you apply for benefits and refer you to services that meet your needs. To reach an HVO Coordinator near you, call the VA’s National Call Center for Homeless Veterans at 1-877-424-3838.[1782]
  1. 1773

    The law restricts the amounts you receive while incarcerated (see PG. 536). See 38 U.S.C. § 5313(a), 38 C.F.R. § 3.665(a), (d); Federal Veterans Benefit: Incarceration Information, Wash. State Dep’t of Corr., www.doc.wa.gov/family/docs/VAFederalBenefits.pdf.

  2. 1774

    If you’re incarcerated for 60+ days, on the 61st day the VA will reduce any disability compensation and pension payments you were getting (see PG. 536). 38 U.S.C. § 5313(a), 38 C.F.R. § 3.665(a), (d); Federal Veterans Benefit: Incarceration Information ,Wash. State Dep’t of Corr., www.doc.wa.gov/family/docs/VAFederalBenefits.pdf.

  3. 1775

    Information Regarding Apportionment Form 21-0788, U.S. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, www.vba.va.gov/pubs/forms/VBA-21-0788-ARE.pdf.

  4. 1776

    In deciding whether and how much apportionment to award your family member(s), the VA will consider various factors including their income, living expenses, and any special needs. 38 U.S.C. § 5313(a), 38 C.F.R. § 3.665(a), (d); Federal Veterans Benefit: Incarceration Information, Wash. State Dep’t of Corr., www.doc.wa.gov/family/docs/VAFederalBenefits.pdf.

  5. 1777

    Incarcerated Veterans: How Incarceration Affects Eligibility for VA benefits, U.S. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, www.benefits.va.gov/persona/veteran-incarcerated.asp.

  6. 1778

    If another government program is covering part of these costs, you can apply for VA benefits to cover the rest. See Health Care for Re-entry Veterans Services & Resources, U.S. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, www.va.gov/homeless/reentry.asp; Guidebook for California Incarcerated Veterans, 4th ed. (July 2013), U.S. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, www.va.gov/HOMELESS/docs/Reentry/09_ca.pdf.

  7. 1779

    Guidebook for California Incarcerated Veterans, 4th ed. (July 2013), U.S. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, www.va.gov/HOMELESS/docs/Reentry/09_ca.pdf

  8. 1780

    Health Care for Re-entry Veterans Services & Resources, U.S. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, http://www.va.gov/homeless/reentry.asp

  9. 1781

    Veterans Justice Outreach, U.S. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, www.va.gov/homeless/vjo.asp

  10. 1782

    Incarcerated Veterans, U.S. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, www.benefits.va.gov/persona/veteran-incarcerated.asp