When you served in the Coast Guard, you may have patrolled waters close to our nation’s shores, or you may have been in far distant waters in a war zone. Wherever you served as a veteran of the Coast Guard, you and your shipmates answered your country’s call to duty.

As a Coast Guard veteran, you have joined a long line of seamen whose service and sacrifice helped protect our country. If you have developed a disabling condition related to your active duty in the Coast Guard, then you deserve our nation’s gratitude in the form of disability compensation for your service.

Yet, Coast Guard veterans often find that securing disability benefits on their own is more time-consuming and frustrating than it should be. Our Coast Guard veterans’ disability lawyers focus on working with former servicemembers because we sincerely appreciate what they have done for our nation. Let one of our experienced attorneys help you obtain the benefits you deserve.

How do Coast Guard Vets Qualify for Disability Compensation?

Any injuries or diseases that developed during active military service or were aggravated by serving in the Coast Guard may warrant disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). For example, Coast Guard veterans are at higher risk of developing certain kinds of respiratory-related diseases because of asbestos, toxic fumes, and hazardous materials commonly found on ships and in shipyards.

Coast Guard and Navy veterans who served aboard vessels that operated primarily on inland waterways, “brown water” rivers, and delta areas in Vietnam may be eligible for disability benefits based on the presumption of exposure to herbicides such as Agent Orange. The list of presumptively dangerous vessels includes those of Inshore Fire Support Division 93, the designation LST, LCVP, PCF (Swift boats) and PBR, and all Coast Guard cutters with hull designation WPB (patrol boat) and WHEC (high endurance cutters) during their Vietnam tour.

Evidence Necessary for Veterans’ Disability Benefits

There are several criteria an applicant must meet to successfully apply for disability benefits through the VA. First, a veteran must prove that they were discharged from the military under honorable conditions. The easiest way to establish this is to submit a copy of your DD-214 Report of Separation form, but if you do not have this form on hand, you may need to request a copy from the National Personnel Records Center.

Second, you must prove that your injury or illness is service-connected, which entails demonstrating that you:

  • First suffered an injury or contracted an illness during active duty service
  • Had a preexisting injury or illness that significantly worsened due to conditions you were exposed to during active duty service
  • Became disabled after discharge as a direct result of conditions you were exposed to during active duty service

In some cases, the disabilities of Coast Guard veterans who served in particular locations at particular times may have a presumptive service connection in the eyes of the VA.

Submitting a VA Benefits Claim

Former Coast Guard servicemembers can file VA benefits applications in multiple ways: online through the Veterans On-Line Application (VONAPP), by calling 800-827-1000, by mailing a paper copy of their application to their local VA office, or by making an appointment at said office to apply in person. Whichever method you choose, you will need to be prepared with extensive information about when and where you became disabled – including specific dates for when symptoms first appeared – and what impact it has had on your life.

Importantly, the VA’s “Fast Track” program now allows applicants to significantly speed up the processing stage by submitting their complete medical records along with their initial application. Fast-tracking is also automatically available for veterans experiencing homelessness, veterans in dire financial need, veterans suffering from service-connected sexual trauma and/or post-traumatic stress disorder, and Vietnam War veterans who became disabled after exposure to Agent Orange.

Are Dependents Eligible for VA Benefits?

Assuming an initial benefits application is accepted, veterans of the Coast Guard who have a combined disability rating of 30 percent or higher are eligible for additional disability compensation for each dependent they add to their benefits. Only the following close family members may be listed as dependents in a VA disability benefits application:

  • Spouses
  • Parents with extremely low income and net wealth who depend on the applicant directly for daily care
  • Unmarried children under 18
  • Unmarried children between 18 and 23 who are enrolled full-time in school
  • Unmarried children who became permanently disabled prior to their 18th birthday

A Coast Guard veterans’ disability lawyer can explain in further detail what dependent benefits may be available in a particular situation.

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