Garlington with his wife, Denise, and their two children, Geoffrey and Christina, after an Easter Sunday church service in 2000.

Whether they were taking his children to the park, watching them ride go-karts or visiting the local zoo, Gregg Garlington’s happiest moments stemmed from finding his purpose as a father.

But as his children got older, those activities became more difficult.

“He had a bad knee from his time in the Navy, and it would just pop out of place doing routine stuff like yardwork and swell for days,” his wife, Denise, recalled.

According to his service records, Garlington sustained a significant knee injury while serving as an operation specialist aboard the USS Anchorage in the Philippines. The invasive knee surgeries of the 1970s were considered career-ending, and Garlington was discharged on a medical board after four years of honorable service.

Over the years, Garlington dealt with chronic pain stemming from the injury. His back and other knee eventually gave out as well, leaving him relatively immobile and unable to work. So Denise encouraged Gregg to file for an increase in disability compensation.

Gregg did not receive a favorable decision during this attempt, so he thought it would be best to reach out to his nearest DAV service office, in Baltimore, to get professional representation.

Navy seaman Gregg Garlington

Sadly, Gregg died before receiving a favorable VA decision for his disability claim. Like many widowed spouses, Denise did not know what veterans benefits she might qualify for and thought it would be in her best interest to drive and meet Gregg’s DAV representative in person.

“[The Baltimore office staff] were so helpful,” Denise said. “They advised me on how we could proceed with settling the unadjudicated claim and helped me file for benefits for surviving spouses,” Denise said.

This process ended up being anything but simple for Denise. The VA denied her original application for survivor benefits due to the lack of an official cause of death for Gregg. Denise and her DAV benefits advocate discussed how they could appeal and what evidence they needed to gather.

Denise collected medical documentation from Gregg’s time in the Navy and from his appointments throughout the years, then got a medical opinion correlating his death to his service-connected injuries.

After Gregg died, Denise decided to relocate to Alabama to be closer to friends and family and continued to work with DAV on her benefits appeal.

A hearing with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals in 2022 led to a favorable decision for Denise.

“Getting survivor benefits was such a relief,” Denise said. “Bills had piled up, and the benefits helped alleviate some of that stress, which would have made Gregg happy to hear.”

Jackie Graham

Then Denise contacted DAV benefits advocate Jackie Graham to check in on the status of the accrued benefits claim.

“I reviewed the claim and worked with the local VA regional office to ensure Denise would receive the correct decision,” Graham said.

A few months after her initial conversation with Graham, and 45 years to the date from when Gregg was discharged from the Navy, Denise was awarded all the benefits Gregg had rightfully earned from his service.

“I felt so alone in the wilderness [after Gregg died], and DAV just helped everything come together,” Denise said. “I am so grateful and know Gregg would have been, too.”

“Navigating the VA claims process can be challenging under the best circumstances, let alone trying to do it after the loss of a loved one,” said National Service Director Jim Marszalek. “Denise and many other widows of veterans demonstrate how invaluable it is to have professional representation when seeking survivor benefits.

“I could not be more proud of how our service officers helped deliver these results.”