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What Do I Do If the Veterans Administration Stops My Benefits Because I Am a "Fugitive Felon"?

Authored By: Northwest Justice Project LSC Funded

7704EN - The Veterans Administration bars three types of felons from receiving VA benefits. The types are, (1) felony charges with an outstanding warrant; (2) felony conviction with an outstanding warrant, or (3) a violation of probation or parole when the underlying crime was a felony. This publication discusses each of these.

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Am I a fugitive felon?

The Veterans Administration (VA) defines you as a fugitive felon if  

  • you are fleeing to avoid prosecution, jail time or imprisonment after conviction for a crime that is a felony or an attempted felony in the place you are fleeing from; OR

  • you are on probation and parole for a federal or state felony AND you are violating the terms of your probation/parole.

If your crime was only a high misdemeanor under the laws of a State, but it would be a felony under Federal law, the VA will still consider you a fleeing felon.

Does being a fugitive felon affect my public benefits?

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

  • disability

  • hospital

  • nursing home

  • domiciliary and medical care

  • all forms of GI bill benefits (education assistance)

  • vocational rehab

  • the Vets Home Loan Program

Does being a fugitive felon affect my eligibility for other public benefits?

Yes. Fugitive felons are not eligible for many federal and state public benefits. 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 the following state programs may end:

  • SFA

  •  Basic Food Assistance

It will also affect your eligibility for housing assistance.

If you have gotten notice that your social security or DSHS benefits have been cut off, see one of these publications: What Do I Do If the Social Security Administration Stops My Benefits Because I Am A "Fleeing Felon?" or What Do I Do If DSHS Stops My Benefits Because I Am A "Fleeing Felon?" This publication talks only about veteran benefits.

Does being a fugitive felon affect benefits for my spouse and children?

Yes. A dependent of a fugitive felon veteran is not eligible for:

  • a 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.

What if I am a child and I am a fugitive felon?

The fugitive felon rule applies to juvenile offenders too. You may lose health benefits, death benefits, DIC improved death benefits, or dependent's educational benefits.

Where a family has a maximum family benefit amount, the removal of a fugitive felon child from dependent benefits will not increase the benefit payment to the veteran's other children.  

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

I did not know or completely forgot about the warrants that make me a fugitive felon. Does that matter? 

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

I know that 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 you apply for benefits.

When you apply for federal or state public benefits, they will ask you whether you have any outstanding warrants or violations. If you know that you do, you must answer honestly. You give your answer under oath. If you do not tell the truth, you may later face criminal fraud charges, jail time, and/or a requirement to pay back any benefits you got from not telling the truth.

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

How far back will the VA suspend my benefits?

The VA says that you and your family were not eligible 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 you became ineligible. The VA calls this an overpayment.

I was told the VA will stop my benefits because I am a fugitive felon. Now what?

The VA will send you a written notice, called a Notice of Adverse Decision, telling you that it intends to stop your benefits by a certain date because you are a fugitive felon. Once the VA sends this notice, you need to do three things.

  • You must act quickly to keep your benefits from being suspended.

  • You will have to address the underlying warrant or violation.

  • If you are not successful at addressing the warrant or violation, you may have to work with an overpayment.

Read the Notice of Adverse Decision. It should outline some of your rights.

Address the warrant or violation.

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

The VA's Notice of Adverse Decision should say:

  • who issued the warrant or violation

  • the date they issued it

  • why they issued it

If it does not say, ask the VA for this info. Once you get the info, contact the federal or state agency that issued the warrant/violation. Try to resolve the warrant/violation.

First, get a copy of the warrant or violation from the court that issued it. Contact the federal/state agency that issued it (usually a prosecutor's office). Look for a name and address on the warrant or violation. In some areas, the local public defender will help you with getting the matter resolved.

You can show that you are not a fugitive felon if you provide proof that:

  • someone made an error due to mistaken identity OR

  • the warrant should be cancelled OR

  • you satisfied the warrant by being arrested or surrendering; OR

  • there are other reasons to resolve the warrant

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

File a Notice of Disagreement.

You must file a Notice of Disagreement within one year of the adverse notice. A Notice of Disagreement begins the appeal process. If you missed the 60-day window discussed just before this section, this may be your only way to appeal the adverse decision. This process may take a long time. You must understand and meet any deadlines given by the VA during the appeals process.

You should also request deferral or offset and waiver for the overpayment. See the section called "Will I owe the VA for any benefits I got while I was in fugitive felon status?" below for important deadlines.

Do I have to respond by a certain time?

Yes. The VA gives you sixty days to respond. You must also meet the timelines for deferral, offset, or waiver.

How do I protest the Notice of Adverse Decision?

The Notice of Adverse Decision should list a contact office for you to send your protest. You must meet the deadlines listed above. You may do so by phone or by mail.

Put your protest into writing too. Keep a copy of your notice of disagreement letter. Either deliver the original to the contact office, and ask the person taking your letter from you to date stamp your copy of the letter, or send the letter via certified mail, return receipt requested. The post office will return the green return receipt to you after they deliver your letter. Keep this return receipt with your copy of your notice of disagreement letter. This is your proof that you did file your notice of disagreement to the suspension of your benefits on time.

I am not currently getting benefits. I used to. Now the VA is telling me I was not eligible then because I was a fugitive felon. What can I do?

You may get a notice of an overpayment from the VA because it says it paid you benefits during a period when you were a fugitive felon. Follow the instructions in the section called "I was told that my benefits will be suspended because I am a fugitive felon. Now what?"

I just fulfilled the requirements of the warrant/violation. Will my benefits automatically start back up?

No. You must contact the VA Regional Office with proof that you are no longer a fugitive felon.

You may start getting benefits again effective the date of arrest for the warrant OR the date an agency or court declares the warrant is invalid.

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

Yes. If you satisfy the warrant or violation, the VA will try to recover any benefits it paid you during the time you were a fugitive felon. You should file a written notice of disagreement. The section "I was told that my benefits will be suspended because I am a fugitive felon. Now what?" has instructions to appeal the overpayment.

A. Request Deferral or Offset of an Overpayment. You must request a deferral or offset 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. Request Waiver of an Overpayment. You also have 180 days from the date of the notice to request waiver. "Waiver" means you are asking the VA to forgive the debt. The VA will have you fill out Form 5655 (available here: http://www.va.gov/vaforms/va/pdf/VA5655.pdf). If the VA denies waiver, you may appeal that decision.

The VA will grant waiver if you show that it meets their "equity and good conscience" standard. Here is some of what the VA considers:

  • Was the veteran at fault in creating the bad financial decision?

  • What happens when you weigh the veteran's fault against the VA's fault?

  • Will collecting the debt result in "undue financial hardship" for you or your family? Will it deprive you of basic family necessities?

  • Will collecting the debt "defeat the purpose" of the pension program or cancel the purpose of the benefit?

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

  • Did you change your position to your veteran's detriment based on a statement by the VA on which you should reasonably have relied (also called equitable estoppel)?

The VA probably will not grant waiver if any of the following can be shown:

  • You engaged in fraud or misrepresentation of a "material fact" in getting the benefits from the VA. "Material fact" means information you were required to provide to the VA when you applied for the benefit.

  • You did not act in good faith.

Do you have other advice?

If it looks like it will take you more than sixty days to resolve your fugitive felon issue, then stock-up on medications beforehand. Make sure you have scheduled any appointments to see your medical providers before the sixty days is over.

If you are already past the sixty-day period, there may be programs in your area that provide low-cost prescription drugs. You may get care for your emergent medical needs at the emergency room of your local hospital. Ask for charity care coverage from the hospital's billing department. Our publication called Charity Care- Medical Coverage for Hospital Based Medical Services has more information.

What if I need legal help?

Northwest Justice Project's Veterans Project provides free legal services for civil problems that are barriers to housing, employment, and self-sufficiency. The Veterans Project also focuses on women veterans who face greater barriers to accessing services and often require special outreach and services to deal with service-related sexual abuse trauma.

In addition to performing direct outreach to low-income and at-risk veterans, the Veterans Project team of attorneys coordinates with veterans' social services, health and housing providers, and Veterans Treatment Courts. Veterans Project attorneys are located in Spokane, Olympia, Tacoma, Seattle and Everett and provide services statewide.   

The Veterans Project provides legal advice, representation, and referrals on a variety of civil legal issues, including:

  • Child Support (modification and arrears forgiveness)

  • Vacating Criminal Convictions / Records

  • Consumer Law

  • Housing Issues

  • Veteran's benefits, and state public / health benefits

  • Discharge Upgrades (less than 15 years old)

Veterans can call NJP's Veterans Project directly.  The toll free, statewide Veterans Project number is: 1-855-NJP-VETS (855-657-8387)




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 January 2014.

© 2014 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: Jan 14, 2014