Service in the US Navy is different than in the other branches because life aboard ship carries its own particular risks. Sailors live in a unique environment that may lead to injury or illness in ways that others may not expect. From using different chemicals to working on the flight deck, shipboard life creates situations that may result in lifetime disabilities.
From the very start of their military journey in boot camp, US Navy personnel are required to engage in marching, rigorous physical training, firefighting, rope handling, simulated ship emergencies, and performance of work on a mock ship. Even though he Sailor has not yet set foot on an actual ship, these situations can present similar hazards. One of my own shipmates broke her leg during boot camp battlestations, and the effects of such an injury can linger for life.
Upon entering Naval service, Sailors will be exposed to a variety of different chemicals, some for cleaning and others for performing various maintenance tasks. Chemicals used in soldering components on circuit boards, wiring, greasing, working on mechanical parts, painting, and removing rust can all cause harm. Some of these chemicals can have adverse health effects if absorbed through the skin, inhaled, or ingested. These can lead to cancers, skin conditions, and other health matters that can negatively impact your life.
Some Veterans worry that they may not have been properly using PPE while working with chemicals, or following guidelines in accordance with the MSDS, but this does not disqualify you from receiving VA benefits. Unless the injury was actively documented as being outside of the “Line of Duty”, it should qualify for VA Disability coverage.
There are a myriad of injuries associated with toxic exposure, and some issues may not appear until later in life. If you have a current diagnosis that may be linked to chemical exposure, you may be entitled to disability pay.
In 2019, Congress finally took action to help out “Blue Water Veterans” from Vietnam who may have been exposed to Agent Orange through their onboard water treatment systems off the coast of Vietnam. These Veterans should be entitled to the same benefits and treatment as Veterans with disabilities caused by direct exposure from service on land in Vietnam or along the DMZ.
Other hazards present may depend upon the job that a Sailor performs, either by virtue of their Rate or their NECs (Navy Enlisted Classification Codes). Nuclear engineers working on nuclear reactors are commonly exposed to radiation, cooling equipment, and other dangerous components associated with nuclear systems. Flight deck personnel are exposed to projectile risks, exhaust emissions, lifting and pulling chains and equipment, extreme noise, heating and exhaustion issues, and other risks unique to the flight deck. Personnel working in the hangars or other internal ship spaces may be exposed to asbestos, electrical hazards, and loud or continuous sounds.
Some Navy experiences can cause PTSD, even in the absence of direct combat. In some cases, dead bodies are kept in the coolers/freezers on ships. Some Navy Veterans witnessed death or experienced Military Sexual Trauma during their service. Many Veterans attempt to subdue mental health issues, or try to block out the likely connection to an experience they had in service, but understanding the impacts of the past can be an important first step in recovery, treatment, and, in some cases, monetary compensation from the VA.
Berry Law was founded by Vietnam Veteran and legendary trial lawyer John Stevens Berry Sr. We are proud to have many military Veterans among our attorneys and staff who understand what it means to serve and know firsthand the struggles many of our clients face every day.
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