After serving your country in the Navy, you have returned to homeport and to civilian life. Yet you will always be a Navy veteran. And if your years of Navy service left you with a disability or chronic health problem, you deserve the benefits and medical care offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). But gaining access to benefits can be slow and frustrating without the assistance of a Navy veterans’ disability lawyer. Our attorneys can help make this process easier, regardless of whether you are filing for the first time or appealing a denial.
Several types of compensation are available to Navy veterans, as they are at higher risk of developing certain kinds of respiratory-related diseases because of asbestos, toxic fumes, and vapors common on Navy ships and in shipyards.
Certain Navy occupations, such as hull maintenance technicians, utilities men, and boatswain’s mates increase the risk of exposure to hazardous materials. As one example, deck grinders who served on aircraft carriers from the 1970s through the 1990s may have an undiagnosed occupational lung disease (i.e., sarcoidosis) from grinding anti-skid material on the decks of aircraft carriers.
Vietnam-era Navy vets who served on ships and vessels including landing craft, swift boats, patrol boats, and destroyers that conducted operations on inland waterways, brown water rivers, and delta areas in Vietnam may be presumed to have exposure to Agent Orange and herbicides. And Navy construction workers (Seabees) who served in the Gulf War report higher incidences of multi-symptom illness.
Generally, the easiest way for a veteran of the U.S. Navy to apply for disability benefits from the VA is to submit the requisite forms and documentation through the VA’s eBenefits online portal. However, it is also possible to apply in person at a local VA office, by mail, or even over the phone by calling 800-827-1000 inside the United States, 412-395-6272 outside the United States, or 800-829-4833 for Telecommunications Device for the Deaf (TDD) services.
Former Navy servicemembers should submit as much documentation with their initial application as possible regarding the severity of their disability, when they first developed symptoms, and the events they believe caused or contributed to their condition. Relevant evidence may include VA medical records, records from private care received after discharge detailing how a condition worsened over time, and supporting statements from family members and friends. It is also crucial to include a DD-214 form or equivalent paperwork showing a discharge or separation from the Navy under honorable conditions.
As of January 2021, it takes an average of 154 days for the VA to fully process and make a decision on an application for disability benefits. However, there are circumstances that make a former Navy member eligible for a “fast-track” process that could significantly shorten this wait time. It is advisable to discuss whether you qualify for expedited processing with an experienced attorney at our firm.
One of the most important elements of any application for VA disability compensation is something called a “disability rating,” which is a percentage ranging from zero to 100 that the VA assigns to a former Navy member’s disability indicating the degree to which his or her impairment prevents them from holding employment and living a normal life. Importantly, a zero percent rating means the VA does not consider the applicant “disabled” to any degree that would qualify him or her for benefits.
In the same vein, certain types of injuries like severe brain damage technically qualify former servicemembers for disability ratings beyond 100 percent, allowing for additional Special Monthly Compensation (SMC). Our qualified Navy veterans’ disability lawyers can offer further clarification about what ratings a particular type of injury or illness may receive and what that rating could mean in terms of available benefits.
Convincing the VA that a disability is both service-connected and severe enough to warrant benefits can be extremely difficult without legal assistance, as one procedural mistake could delay the claims process out or even lead to a rejection. For these reasons, seeking professional assistance with a VA disability benefits application is often the best way to minimize potential roadblocks and ensure that an application is as comprehensive and compelling as possible.
Legal counsel can also provide crucial assistance in the process of formally appealing a VA benefits claim denial. The VA has strict rules for how to contest a claim rejection, and ensuring compliance with those regulations can be made easier with the professional help and guidance of our team. To schedule a consultation about VA benefits, call a Navy veterans’ disability lawyer at our firm today.