May a Prisoner's VA Benefits Be Garnished to Pay for Prisoner's Medical Care?

A unanimous three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit today said, Yes, in Gossett v. Czech, Case No. 06-16973 (9th Cir. Sep 9, 2009):

Paul Gossett (Gossett), a committed inmate at Napa State Hospital (the Hospital), appeals from the district court’s summary judgment order in his 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action alleging that Al Czech (Czech), the Trust Officer of the Hospital, unlawfully took a portion of his Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits each month and applied the money to partially defray the cost of Gossett’s care at the Hospital. Gossett claims this reimbursement violated the statutory provision that makes benefits earned by United States military veterans “exempt from the claims of creditors.” 38 U.S.C.§ 5301(a)(1). Gossett also claims on appeal that Czech violated certain conditions and specified procedures contained in the regulations implementing this statute. See 38 C.F.R.§§ 13.58, 13.71. We affirm and hold that 38 U.S.C.§ 5301(a)(1), when read in combination with pertinent regulations such as 38 C.F.R. § 13.71, does not prohibit direct paymentsof VA benefits to a state hospital for ongoing veteran patient care.