Whenever a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard develops severe medical conditions associated with their time in service, they may be entitled to disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs to facilitate their recovery and provide them with the crucial financial assistance they need.
If you served in the U.S. Coast Guard and subsequently developed a service-connected injury or disability, consider contacting Dolman Law Group, PA for more information about the eligibility and viability of your claims, the disability rating to which you may be entitled, and crucial assistance about how to acquire it.
Common Service-Connected Injuries in the U.S. Coast Guard
Toxic Substance Contamination Suspected on Two Dozen U.S. Coast Guard Bases
Perfluorooctane substances (PFAS) were and still are ubiquitous on Coast Guard installations throughout the country. PFAS is a constituent element in Class B aqueous film-forming foam (AFFF) which is a highly effective oil fire flame retardant that has a tendency to bioaccumulate over time. On account of its longevity and resistance to breaking down, PFAS is frequently characterized as a “forever chemical”.
In recent months, a number of states have undertaken extensive efforts to eradicate remaining stockpiles of AFFF located at municipal firehouses, and high-profile AFFF multidistrict litigation (MDL) aimed against the manufacturers of AFFF, including 3M and DuPont, has attracted much attention. According to the Environmental Working Group, which acquired otherwise undisclosed documents through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, at least two dozen Coast Guard bases are suspected of having PFAS contamination connected to their use of AFFF.
The list of diseases and diagnoses correlated to AFFF and PFAS-overexposure is long, but generally includes:
- Bladder cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
- Immune system complications
Although the United States Coast Guard has not extensively responded to the serious health risks connected to the use of AFFF, save a belated episode in 2011, veterans of the Coast Guard who subsequently developed the conditions connected with PFAS overexposure may be eligible to seek compensation in the form of disability benefits from the VA through a veterans disability claim.
Asbestos and Lead Exposure on Coast Guard Cutters
If the Coast Guard is reticent to take an official and broadly advertised position on AFFF toxic chemical overexposure, it is more willing to admit the risks its service members run on cutters constructed before 1991. In both routine upkeep operations and daily tasks, service members assigned to Coast Guard cutters constructed before 1991 run the risk of asbestos and lead exposure if they were around:
- Thermal insulation containing asbestos
- Torn asbestos floor tiles
- Lead dust from paint or ballast ingots
On its official website, the U.S. Coast Guard affirms that the asbestos and lead levels on its vessels do not surpass the limits imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and that it retains a degree of skepticism when admitting any service connection between toxic substances on its cutters and various cancers and medical complications.
Fortunately, the Coast Guard does not determine whether or not veterans can access full and fair financial compensation for service-connected injuries. Even if you anticipate reluctance from the VA disability benefits bureaucracy in accepting your claim, the sooner you compile a compelling claim, the sooner you can fight to get the disability rating you deserve.
Documents for Establishing a U.S. Coast Guard Service Connection
As with any claims process, a compelling factual record and a formidable body of evidence will make the difference between accessing quickly and cleanly the compensation to which you may be entitled and walking away with nothing at all. Although each claim is ultimately unique, there are basic documents often related to military and private medical records, which the VA will request but not always require you to submit to receive an estimation of your claim that includes:
- Orders of permanent duty assignment
- Career Summary list
- Coast Guard Service Treatment Record
- DD-214 (Official Military Personnel File)
- Military Service Records
- Coast Guard Cutters Constructed Prior to 1991 and in Service from 1987 to 2017
The lattermost document assists the VA in determining the specific vessel to which you were assigned and its probable correlation to your asbestos and lead overexposure claim in particular. Taken together, the documents will help to establish an incontrovertible factual record detailing your service in the U.S. Coast Guard and the development of serious medical conditions for which you intend to seek compensation.
It is generally advisable to access the preceding documentation prior to filing a claim with the VA. Although the department does not obligate a claimant to submit these documents alongside his claim, it does require additional submissions within one year of filing the claim. If a claimant fails to inform the VA within 30 days of the claim’s submission that he intends to file additional records, it may prematurely process, assess, and, potentially, dismiss it.
Filing a Coastguard Veterans Disability Claim with the Department of Veterans Affairs
Regardless of the fact that the Coast Guard is the only branch of the military that is not a subsidiary of the Department of Defense but instead a constituent of the Department of Homeland Security, the claims process is relatively similar to that for veterans of the other branches. The first document a veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard must complete and submit to initiate the disability benefits process is VA Form 21-526EZ.
On account of express VA prohibitions and restrictions, claimants are not permitted to seek the assistance of VA disability benefits lawyers prior to the appeals process. However, trained Veterans Service Officers (VSOs) can provide initial guidance and aid to veterans who are uncertain about the documentation they need and to whom to submit it.
The two most important things to establish during the filing of an initial claim are:
Service Connection for VA Disability Benefits
A service connection refers to the relationship between a claimant’s injury and his time in service. In order to access any VA disability benefits, a claimant must successfully prove that he:
- Sustained an injury in service
- Continues to suffer from the injury or disability
- Received the injury because of his time in service
The VA also recognizes and may grant select benefits for secondary service connections, which address service-related injuries which aggravate non-service connected and preexisting illnesses or conditions.
Moreover, in order to qualify for VA disability benefits, a claimant must have received either an honorable or general discharge from the U.S. Coast Guard. For more information about your eligibility, consider speaking with one of our experienced attorneys today.
Effective Dates in VA Disability Benefits Law
During the VA disability benefits claims and appeals process, claimants do not receive disbursements from the Department of Veterans Affairs. However, upon accepting the VA’s disability rating, a veteran is entitled to receive retroactive payment for the period beginning with the filing of his claim (effective date) and his acceptance of the department’s offer.
VA Disability Benefits Appeals Process for U.S. Coast Guard Veterans
Unfortunately, many veterans complain of inadequate initial disability ratings or curt dismissals from the VA. In an effort to access quickly and efficiently the benefits to which they are entitled, they often resort to the assistance of a qualified VA disability benefits lawyer to advocate on their behalf.
The appeals process in the Department of Veterans Affairs is diverse, complex, and, at times, convoluted. It is not necessarily linear, and a claimant reserves the right, randomly, to resort to bodies of higher authority, submissions of additional evidence, or reversions to bodies of lower authority.
Nevertheless, there are four major subdivisions within the VA disability benefits appeals process, including:
- Supplemental Claims (SCs)
- Higher-Level Reviews
- Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA)
- U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans’ Claims (CAVC)
The average wait time for each stage of the appeals process ranges from 2 months to 2 years, which means that devising a successful strategy for intelligently navigating the appeals process with a scrupulous VA disability benefits attorney is paramount for acquiring the compensation to which you may be entitled.
Disability Benefits Available through the VA
Veterans in pursuit of disability benefits from the VA may require financial assistance to cover the costs of medical expenses for which insurance coverage proves insufficient or compensation to account for diminished earning potential caused by a service-connected injury or disability. The form of VA disability benefits is diverse and encompasses everything from nontaxable monthly disbursements to pecuniary aid for the survivors of deceased veterans.
Depending on the unique circumstances of a claim, veterans and their families may be entitled to:
- Total Disability Individual Unemployability (TDIU)
- Dependence and Indemnity Compensation (DIC)
- Special Monthly Compensation (SMC)
- Veterans’ Mortgage Life Insurance (VMLI)
- Special Adapted Housing grants
Why You Should Choose Dolman Law Group as Your Veterans Disability Lawyers
Dolman Law Group, PA prioritizes the wellbeing and financial security of those who risked their lives and livelihoods in service of our country. That is why we boast an impressive legal team of qualified veterans’ disability lawyers prepared to take on the complex bureaucracy of the modern VA benefits system.
Boasting impressive institutional knowledge and advantageous connections conducive to getting results, we can assist you in collating evidence, completing appeals forms, and representing you before the BVA and CAVC. Through a fusion of personal injury law expertise and extensive VA disability benefits law experience, we are ready to offer you the individualized treatment of a small-scale firm with the relationships and resources of a nationwide practice.
If your time in the U.S. Coast Guard resulted in a service-connected injury or disability that threatens to jeopardize your household, contact us today for assistance, attentiveness, and success.
Contact Dolman Law Group for Help with Your VA Disability Benefits Claim
Confronting the VA disability benefits bureaucracy may seem like a daunting prospect. For many veterans, the thought of adding to their medical treatment an extensive and potentially years’ years-long battle with the Department of Veterans Affairs is, unsurprisingly, unattractive.
Nevertheless, accessing the benefits to which may be entitled could extend a vital lifeline to preserving your health and your household’s stability. Veterans disability benefits lawyers understand such conflicting passions, which is why they work around the clock to alleviate the excessive burdens imposed upon claimants who decide to go at it alone.
At Dolman Law Group, our legal team offers free consultations to prospective clients and works on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay until and unless we successfully resolve your claim. Whether you are determined to undertake the herculean efforts to acquire your due compensation from the VA or are simply interested in learning about your options, consider contacting us today at (727) 451-6900 or scheduling an appointment at one of our local offices.