Navy veteran receives help from DAV, high school friend with VA benefits claim

More than 30 years passed since Andrew Edwards and Michael Cravens, both military veterans, roamed their high school halls together. But like any good friend, Edwards, who is now a DAV national service officer, thought to check with Cravens about the status of his 2003 claim for veterans benefits.

“Mike reached back out to me, and I asked him whatever happened with your claim,” said Edwards, a Marine Corps veteran and the national area supervisor of the DAV office in St. Louis, Mo. “He said, ‘they denied me, so I just let it go.’”

Cravens, a Navy veteran, was erroneously denied benefits for hearing loss and ringing in his ears more than a decade and a half ago. Like many veterans, he grew discouraged by the refusal, but Edwards said he couldn’t stand idly by watching his old friend get passed over for the benefits he should have been granted. He made it his mission to see what DAV could do to get the claim across the finish line.

As a gas turbine mechanic serving aboard USS Hepburn, a frigate, and later the guided-missile cruiser, USS Chancellorsville, Cravens became accustomed to the shrieking and persistent rattles of the massive engines and generators.

“They were like big jet engines, and they put out quite a bit of noise,” said Cravens.

After spending four years in the engine room, which included cruising across the Pacific Ocean and other shorter deployments, Cravens developed hearing loss and a constant, nagging ringing in his ears. Nearly a decade went by before Cravens filed an initial claim for VA disability benefits for these ailments.

He was surprised, however, and frustrated when he received a VA letter in the mail notifying him he had been denied benefits outright.

“I did not think that was right,” Cravens added. “It bummed me out for a little bit because I served honorably for four years.”

Until recently, Cravens’ denial was unknown to Edwards as he had decided not to pursue his claim. But the duo got back in touch recently as their children—who attend the same high school as their parents in Poplar Bluff, Mo.—became friends. When Edwards learned of the faulty denial, he figured he could use his expertise as a benefits advocate to help his friend.

“I told him let me get your [power of attorney], and let DAV take a look,” said Edwards.

After evaluating the case, Edwards’ suspicions were confirmed. The notification letter Cravens received in 2004 mistakenly barred him from benefits, despite serving in the Navy honorably from 1990 to 1994.

In January of this year, Edwards filed clear and unmistakable error (CUE) paperwork requesting that the VA revise its rating decision due to its oversight after arbitrarily denying the benefits.

The new rating decision came in February, granting Cravens service connection for the ringing in his ears and hearing loss. While the decision alone would have been enough to celebrate, Cravens was thrilled to learn that his denial was not only reversed, but VA backdated the claim to his 2003 filing.

Edwards said his friend had fallen on “tough times” in recent years, but that this decision was one way of getting Cravens back on the right track.

“Mike couldn’t have been more thankful for what the DAV has done,” said Edwards. “It took a lot of stress off of him.”

The decision now allows Cravens to receive health care and compensation for his hearing condition, including free hearing aids.

“I’m very grateful,” he added. “Andy helped me out quite a bit after all these years. It means a lot.”