DVA claim Q&A: Dennis Crooks

Like a lot of veterans, Dennis Crooks gave up on his first attempt at lodging a compensation claim with the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) on his own. It was just too difficult. But with assistance from our partner charity RSL DefenceCare, he was able to navigate the DVA claim process with support and expert guidance – now he’s making plans for his future. 

Q: Can you tell us a bit about your service? 

I served in the Royal Australian Navy for just under 50 years, retiring as Chief Petty Officer Marine Technical Propulsion (CPO MTP). 

When I joined the Navy in 1969, I was on a guided missile destroyer with 333 crew. And 331 of them were smokers. You could get cigarettes duty free for 5c a pack. We had ashtrays welded to the sides of our bunks and you were in a confined space with 66 other sailors all smoking. The only time you couldn’t smoke was during meals. It was a different time. These days, the maximum crew on a helicopter landing ship is about 400 and you’d be lucky to find 10 who smoked.

Things are very different now – no more ashtrays welded to the side of bunks these days and no more asbestos, which was also a huge issue on ships. 

The process of making a claim for asbestos-related conditions for personnel who served on many RAN vessels between 1940 and 2003 has been simplified, and the list of vessels as well as an overview of eligibility criteria is available here. Get in touch with RSL DefenceCare for any help with a claim.

Q: When did you decide to transition out?

I officially retired about six years ago but have been doing Reservist work on and off since then. I finished up my last stint in Darwin in May. 

When you start getting to retirement age in the Navy, you go off to seminars about what the DVA does and what it can offer, and they come out to explain what’s involved and how you can get help.

It wasn’t that straightforward to begin with though. I started preparing for retirement about 10 years ago – I wanted to start my DVA process while I was still serving and had easy access to my medical records so I could start working toward compensation for the injuries I sustained during my service.

Q: And your DVA claim – where did you start? 

Well I didn’t know who to talk to and I had no help, so I gave up halfway through. Unfortunately a lot of veterans my age have done the same. It was just too hard. 

As I got closer to retirement, I started getting more information and I talked to the right people – they pointed me towards RSL DefenceCare.

I started working through the process with a close mate of mine who had done the delegate training. There are a lot of veterans out there who are qualified to help you through the process and it’s a small world – some of them are guys I’ve served with over the years. But we lived in different parts of the state at the time so it was simpler to change over to working with someone from RSL DefenceCare. 

“Anyone attempting to deal with DVA without help is suffering unnecessary stress and frustration. No one could be expected to deal with it on their own.”

Ian Wilson from RSL DefenceCare has now been my advocate for several years, and his guidance and support has been excellent. I feel his persistence is the only reason I have received the DVA benefits I have. 

It can be a very challenging process. For example, DVA required that I write up documents about my service and how it had affected me. But I’m an engineer, so I would give Ian the cold, hard facts – he would know how to put it into the language required by the DVA.

Q: What kind of DVA claims were you dealing with?

Exposure to all that smoking in a confined space has had an impact on my health. 

My advocate really went in to fight on my behalf and took it to the Veterans’ Review Board, where we succeeded. Without him, I would have got nowhere. It would be too hard to navigate this stuff without help. 

I’m not an expert, but I’m always happy to share my experience and offer my contacts to other veterans and serving members. Anyone attempting to deal with DVA without help is suffering unnecessary stress and frustration. No one could be expected to deal with it on their own.

Q: What are your plans now that you’ve come to the end of your service? 

I’ve seen half the world in my time in the Navy. But you wouldn’t say I’d seen it in style! It’s not like being on a cruise liner. And my better half has seen the other half of the world during her time in foreign affairs. Now we want to see the rest together. So I want to keep my health up for that – that’s the main reason I do this. My health and mental wellbeing has really benefited from Ian’s assistance at RSL DefenceCare. 

We’ve lived all over – Sydney, Cairns, Darwin, Newcastle – and now Canberra. We’ve had a good life. And Canberra’s a nice city, but like everyone we are ready to lock the door behind us and leave for a while. 

So when we can start travelling again, our plan is to see two Grand Prix a year until we’ve been to all of them! I love going to Singapore for the Grand Prix and we’ve been to one in Monaco. Now it’s time to see the rest. 


RSL DefenceCare is part of RSL LifeCare, our charity partner. This year, we donated $2.1m to support RSL LifeCare’s important work. Current and ex-serving Defence personnel, as well as family members and spouses of veterans, can access RSL LifeCare assistance here

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