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The VA Stopped my Benefits: They say I am a “Fugitive Felon”

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded

According to the Veterans Administration (VA), you are a fugitive felon if you are fleeing to avoid prosecution, jail time, or prison after conviction for a felony or an attempted felony OR you are on probation and parole for a felony AND you are violating your probation/parole. In these cases, the VA may stop your benefits. Read about your options if this happens to you. Publication #7704EN

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Am I a fugitive felon?

Yes, according to the Veterans Administration (VA), if  

  • You are fleeing to avoid prosecution, jail time, or prison after conviction for a felony or an attempted felony
    OR

  • You are on probation and parole for a felony AND you are violating your probation/parole

*If your crime was a high misdemeanor under state laws, but a felony under Federal law, the VA still says you are a fleeing felon.

Will this affect my veterans’ benefits?

Yes. You will be ineligible for ALL veterans’ benefits, including:

  • disability

  • hospital

  • nursing home

  • domiciliary and medical care

  • all GI bill benefits (education assistance)

  • vocational rehab

  • the Vets Home Loan Program

Does it affect my eligibility for other benefits?

Yes. You may lose these federal benefits:

  • Social Security retirement

  • Social Security Disability (SSD)

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

  • Food Assistance (food stamps)

  • TANF

Your benefits for these state programs may end:

  • SFA

  •  Basic Food Assistance

It will also affect your eligibility for housing assistance.

If you have gotten notice that Social Security or DSHS has cut off your benefits, read one of these:

This is only about veteran benefits.

Will it affect benefits for my spouse and children?

Yes. They are not eligible for

  • Death pension

  • Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)

  • Civilian Health and Medical Program VA (CHAMPVA)

  • Dependent’s educational benefits

  • Other benefits, including health care, services, and products

*Dependent children of a fugitive surviving spouse may be eligible for benefits.

Can a child be a fugitive felon?

Yes. The fugitive felon rule applies to juvenile offenders.

If your family has a maximum family benefit amount, removing the fugitive felon child from dependent benefits will not increase your other children’s benefit payment.  

*The VA will not pay your spouse benefits either if s/he is a fugitive felon.

I did not know or forgot about the warrant making me a fugitive felon. Does that matter?

No. The simple fact of a warrant or violation is enough for the VA to stop your benefits.

I have an outstanding warrant. Should I still apply for benefits?

No. This could cause you more problems down the line. Try to resolve the outstanding warrant before applying for benefits.

When you apply for public benefits, they will ask if you have any outstanding warrants or violations. If you do not answer honestly, you may face criminal fraud charges and jail time. You may have to pay back any benefits you got.

*If you apply for benefits and have an outstanding warrant or violation, the agency may tell law enforcement your whereabouts to help them arrest you.

How far back will the VA suspend my benefits?

You and your family will have been ineligible for any Veteran benefits effective either

  • the date of the warrant OR

  • December 27, 2001 (the date the fugitive felon law became effective)

The VA may ask you to pay back any benefits you got after becoming ineligible. This is an overpayment.

The VA said they are stopping my benefits because I am a fugitive felon. Now what?

They will send you a written Notice of Adverse Decision, telling when it will stop your benefits. Then you must:

  1. Act fast.

  2. Address the underlying warrant or violation.

  3. Work with an overpayment, if you cannot do #2.

*The Notice of Adverse Decision should outline some of your rights.

How long do I have to address the warrant/violation?

The VA gives you sixty days to resolve your fugitive felon status OR prove you are not a fugitive felon. If you do not resolve your status after sixty days, they will stop all your benefits and start to transfer your care to a non-VA provider. Most federal and state medical benefits will not pay for your medical bills if you are a fugitive felon. You must contact the agency that issued the warrant or violation and resolve the matter with them.

Who do I contact to address the warrant?

The VA’s Notice of Adverse Decision should say:

  • Who issued it.

  • When they issued it.

  • Why they issued it.

If not, ask the VA for this info. Once you get it, contact the agency that issued the warrant/violation to try to resolve it.

How do I figure out whom to contact at the agency that issued the warrant?

Get a copy of the warrant or violation from the agency that issued it. It is usually a prosecutor’s office. Look for a name and address on the warrant/violation. The local public defender might help with this.

How do I show I am not a fugitive felon?

You can provide proof of one of these:

  • Someone made an error due to mistaken identity.

  • They should cancel the warrant.

  • You satisfied the warrant by surrendering or letting them arrest you.

  • Other reasons to resolve the warrant.

If the agency that issued the warrant/violation will not dismiss it, you must meet the terms of the warrant or violation. Either way, do your best to resolve this within 60 days of the Notice of Adverse Decision.

How do I appeal the VA’s decision?

You must file a Notice of Disagreementwithin one year of the adverse notice. This starts the appeal process. If you missed the 60-day window discussed in “Address the warrant/violation,” this may be your only way to appeal the adverse decision. It may take a long time. You must understand and meet any VA deadlines during the appeals process.

You should also request deferral or offset and waiver for the overpayment. “Will I owe the VA for any benefits I got while I was in fugitive felon status,” below, has important deadlines.

Where do I appeal?

The Notice of Adverse Decision should list a contact office. Keep a copy of your Notice of Disagreement. You can hand-deliver the original to the contact office, and ask the person taking it to date stamp your copy, OR send it certified mail, return receipt requested. When you get the return receipt, keep it with your copy of your notice of disagreement letter. This is your proof that you appealed timely.

I got benefits before. The VA now says I was not eligible then because I was a fugitive felon. What can I do?

They may send you an overpayment notice. Follow the instructions in the section “The VA told me they are stopping my benefits because I am a fugitive felon. Now what.”

I just completed the warrant/violation requirements. How do I get my benefits back?

You must contact the VA Regional Office with proof that you are no longer a fugitive felon. You can start getting benefits again effective the date of arrest for the warrant OR the date an agency/court declares the warrant invalid.

Do I owe the VA for benefits I got while in fugitive felon status?

Yes. If you satisfy the warrant or violation, the VA will try to recover any benefits it paid you when you were a fugitive felon. You should file a written notice of disagreement. “The VA told me they are stopping my benefits because I am a fugitive felon. Now what” has instructions.

A. Ask for Deferral or Offset of an Overpayment within thirty days of the notice. The thirty days starts from the date of the notice – not the date of the mailing of the notice.

B. Ask for Waiver of an Overpayment within 180 days from the date of the notice. “Waiver” means the VA forgives the debt. You must fill out Form 5655 (available at http://www.va.gov/vaforms/va/pdf/VA5655.pdf). If the VA denies waiver, you can appeal.

When will the VA waive an overpayment?

They will waive your overpayment if you meet their “equity and good conscience” standard. They consider:

  • Was the bad financial decision your fault?

  • What happens when you weigh your fault against the VA’s fault?

  • Will collecting the debt cause you hardship? Will it deprive you of basic family necessities?

  • Will collecting the debt “defeat the purpose” of the pension program or cancel its purpose?

  • Will you be “unjustly enriched” if the VA does not collect the debt?

  • Did you change your position to your detriment because you reasonably relied on the VA’s statement?

The VA probably will not grant waiver if:

  • You engaged in fraud or misrepresentation of info you had to give the VA when you applied for the benefit.

  • You did not act in good faith.

Do you have other advice?

Stock-up on medications beforehand. It may take more than sixty days to resolve your fugitive felon issue. If you are already past the sixty-day period, programs in your area might provide low-cost prescription drugs.

*Make sure you have scheduled any appointments with your medical providers before the sixty days is up.

You can get care for emergency medical needs at your local hospital’s emergency room. Ask their billing department for charity care coverage. Charity Care- Medical Coverage for Hospital Based Medical Services has more info.

 

7704EN

This publication provides general information concerning your rights and responsibilities. It is not intended as a substitute for specific legal advice.
This information is current as of September 2017.

© 2017 Northwest Justice Project. 1-888-201-1014.
(Permission for copying and distribution granted to the Alliance for Equal Justice and individuals for non-commercial use only.)

Last Review and Update: Sep 21, 2017
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