Fugitive Felon Status and its Impact on VA Benefits
For veterans who are receiving VA benefits and who have warrants issued for their arrest, there may be a significant danger of not only losing their benefits, but also of having to repay all benefits received.
The VA has been instructed to withhold benefits from those veterans who are categorized as fugitive felons. A fugitive felon is an individual with an outstanding warrant for his arrest in connection with a felony or potential felony. The rationale behind this rule is that it would be improper for the government to provide monetary assistance to an individual who is fleeing from the law.
While in a general sense, this rule is quite logical, the problem arises when warrants have been issued under less than certain circumstances, by mistake, or without factual basis. For example, suppose a case where a warrant was issued when a veteran was eighteen for a minor or questionable offense and the veteran was entirely unaware that this could come to light in his 50’s, after he had received VA benefits for 30 years. Would he be required to pay back all of the money he had received from the time of the issuance of the warrant?
What to do: Steps You Can Take
If you receive a notification from the VA that they consider you to be a fugitive felon and will be cutting off your benefits and requiring repayment of previous benefits, here are a few important steps that you can take:
- Submit a Notice of Disagreement (NOD) to the VA within one year of receiving notification from the VA that they consider you a fleeing felon. Inform the VA of specific reasons why you disagree with their decision. Do not just say that you disagree in general. You may also request a personal hearing with a local Decision Review Officer (DRO) by sending a letter to your local VA office. At this meeting you will be allowed to present your case to a DRO in person. Send the NOD to the office that sent you the letter informing you of your status as a fugitive felon. The VA will respond by issuing a Statement of the Case (SOC) outlining the reasons why they agree or disagree with you.
- Notify the VA that you wish to delay repayment of your previous benefits until after the appeals process is complete.
- Try to track down the warrant and deal with it. Read more details below...
- If the SOC is not in your favor, you may file a substantive appeal by filling out a VA Form 9. This form will allow you to appeal to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA). On this form you may request a hearing that will allow you to meet with a board member. Also, state what type of benefit is at issue, and highlight specific items on the SOC that you believe are incorrect as a matter of fact or law. You must file a VA Form 9 within 60 days of receiving your SOC.
- In the event that you lose all your appeals and find yourself owing the VA money for your previous receipt of benefits, causing you “significant hardship,” you can file a “hardship” request. Contact the VA’s Debt Management Center (DMC).
The DMC can be reached at 800-827-0648 (or 1-612-713-6415 from overseas). They are available Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. ET. If you have hearing loss, call TTY: 711.
You can also contact them online through Ask VA or by mail at:
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
Debt Management Center
P.O. Box 11930
St. Paul, MN 55111
- For additional information concerning the Fugitive Felon Program, you can contact the Fugitive Felon Coordinator or Enrollment Coordinator at your local VA medical care facility or contact VA at 1-877-222-VETS (8387).
IMPORTANT: If you have been identified as a fugitive felon by the VA, this determination stemmed from the existence of a warrant for your arrest in conjunction with a potential felony. Therefore, in order to succeed on your VA appeal you will probably have to deal with this outstanding warrant.
The VA has stated:
The fact that a warrant has been dismissed, recalled, quashed (that is, annulled or set aside), or otherwise cleared does not mean that no action is required on the fugitive referral, unless it has been established that the warrant was cleared effective on or before the date the beneficiary went into fugitive status.
In most cases in which a warrant is dismissed, recalled, or quashed, there was still a valid warrant up to the date the warrant was cleared. VA benefits are subject to adjustment from the warrant date (or date of the law) until the recall/dismissal/quash date.
In sum, clearing, recalling, or quashing the warrant will not suffice unless this occurred prior to the VA having recognized you as a fugitive felon; you will still have been a fugitive felon for that period before the warrant was quashed, and beginning when the warrant was issued.
Therefore, you should attempt to have a court order that the warrant is “nunc pro tunc” effective January 1, 2001 (the effective date of the fugitive felon directive to the VA). The term nunc pro tunc means “now for then,” and is essentially a statement by the court that your warrant is effective quashed starting on January 1, 2001. This means that you officially did not have an effective warrant out for you at least since the VA began its fugitive felon program.
The same result can be gained by having the court rule that the warrant was “ab initio” which means that it was quashed “from the start.”
Once you have your warrant cleared, if at all possible, you can then successfully appeal to the VA. Even if you cannot get your warrant cleared, you can appeal to the VA anyway.