The VA is required to consider all relevant information that supports your VA disability claim. This includes eyewitness accounts of the cause of your disability and/or its effects on you. The Statement in Support of Claim, also referred to as a “buddy letter” or “lay evidence,” can provide powerful evidence supporting your case.
These personal statements can come from someone who served with you and witnessed the event, or from family and friends who are able to describe how the event has affected you.
Military buddy statements are particularly powerful if the person is able to give an eyewitness account of the events, conditions, or situation that caused your disability. Often, things happen while on duty that aren’t written up in a report but may have had a significant impact on you. Other times, records get lost or destroyed. If you have a friend or fellow service member who was there and can corroborate your statement, the VA is required to apply “benefit of the doubt” when your claim has limited medical support. Without a buddy statement, it would be less likely this benefit of the doubt would be applied or it would possibly be applied and a lower rating given.
Powerful buddy statements can also come from close family members or friends who have been a part of your life before and after the events or conditions that brought about your injury.
How to write a powerful buddy letter
Remember that VA asserts that evaluators are overworked, looking through many claims a day. You want to make your information as clear and as powerful as possible. That means using their preferred form and keeping the message short and impactful.
The statements must be from a credible source and should be worded appropriately. For instance, while your wife may write that you have become despondent and depressed unless she has medical expertise in psychology, she could not say you have depression. Leave that evaluation to your doctor.
Effective buddy letters should:
- Use their form: While you can have your buddy hand-write or type the letter, the VA Form 21-4138, “Statement in Support of Claim,” makes it very clear what information the VA wants and needs, and it’s laid out neatly in a manner they are familiar with. The top of the form provides space for you to include all of your relevant contact information, VA file number, service number, etc.
- Include the buddy’s personal information: The writer should include his/her name, contact information, how the writer knows you, and level of contact with you, before, during, and after the event. For example, a military buddy might say, “I was in the same unit with (your name) for 3 years before the incident and 2 years after. We have kept in touch since.”
- Describe what the buddy has witnessed: A fellow military buddy might describe the event that you both experienced and how it affected you. A spouse might describe how you were before the incident.
- Describe your condition since the event: Your military buddy could describe the effects on you immediately or shortly after the event (physical injuries, personality changes). A spouse could describe your physical limitations or emotional/relational changes since the incident, how it affects your marriage, your relationship with your children, your ability to keep a job, the financial impact, etc.
- Include a signature and testimony of truthfulness: Your military buddy, family member, or friend should end with a statement testifying to the truthfulness of the statement, for instance, “I testify that the statements on this form are true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.” Then sign and date the form or letter.
Making the most of buddy letters
If you have several people who can describe your disability from different perspectives, you may submit more than one buddy letter. For instance, you may have someone from your unit who can give an eyewitness testimony, describing the immediate effect. You may also have a spouse or family member who knew you before and after and can describe the effects on your personality and relationships. If you had the same employer before the military as well as after, that employer could describe how the disability has changed how well you can complete your job.
Be sure to make the most of the Statement in Support of Claim. The people reading your VA claim are human beings. While a medical report tends to be dry, reading a personal account from a friend or family member can move their hearts.
Remember to keep your buddy letters short and powerful and always include at least one. If you have any questions, contact us here at the Law Office of Robert B. Goss, Veterans Attorney. As disabled veterans ourselves, we know first-hand about dealing with the VA and we are dedicated to helping you get the benefits you deserve for your service to our country.