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:
Pre-release steps for securing VA health care (& other benefits):
compensation and pension examination?
Even if you are incarcerated, the VA is obligated to provide you with a compensation and pension examination when one is required (see VA Fast Letter 11-22, Examinations for Incarcerated Veterans and Veterans Health Administration (Sept. 8, 2011)). You have the right to have a medical professional perform the examination at the facility where you are incarcerated (see Bolton v. Brown, 8 Vet. App. 185 (1995).
- 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. 542). 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.
VA programs that can help you plan & navigate reentry:
If you’re participating in a work-release program, living in a halfway house, or under community supervision as part of your felony sentence, the VA considers you NOT incarcerated.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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. ↑
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. ↑
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. ↑
Incarcerated Veterans: How Incarceration Affects Eligibility for VA benefits, U.S. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, www.benefits.va.gov/persona/veteran-incarcerated.asp. ↑
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. ↑
Incarcerated Veterans, U.S. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, www.benefits.va.gov/persona/veteran-incarcerated.asp ↑