Personal statements, often underestimated in VA claims, are something we strongly advocate veterans take into account for most claims. Veteran Disability Claims Bootcamp highly encourages utilizing a personal statement, also referred to as a ‘Statement in Support of a Claim,’ to offer crucial supporting evidence.
While a personal statement can bolster your claim and complement your other evidentiary documents, the role of buddy letters, also known as lay witness statements, is worth considering. These are written not by you but by individuals such as a spouse, co-worker, fellow service member, friend, or employer. How do they contribute to your case?
Previously, VDC has explored the concept of the buddy letter and emphasized the significance of Statements in Support of a Claim. Although we once wholeheartedly endorsed the use of buddy letters, our accumulated experience has led us to believe that in many instances, buddy letters may be superfluous and, in some cases, could even introduce complexities into your claim.
Does a Buddy Letter hold significance?
Occasionally, but not as frequently as our previous belief. While we once advocated for buddy letters or buddy statements from first hand witnesses, the reality is that we have observed these letters creating confusion and causing more harm than good in numerous cases. Contradictory information from lay witnesses (which frequently occurs) can actually impede the progress of your claim and even result in denial.
We acknowledge that our stance on this matter might diverge from the commonly accepted advice provided by VA lawyers and other VA claim services. However, our success, aiding veterans in winning claims and elevating their ratings, is attributed to our willingness to challenge established beliefs. Over time, we’ve discerned patterns that often elude others. In the present scenario, our close connections with former VA raters and adjudicators have further validated our perspective on buddy letters.
In certain instances, incorporating a buddy statement can prove advantageous in securing your claim, and we will delve deeper into this topic within this article.
Alternatives to Buddy Letters
When service treatment records are unavailable, or your current symptoms lack documentation, a Statement in Support of Claim (personal statement) can serve as invaluable evidence to fortify your claim.
A meticulously prepared Statement in Support of Claim contributes to the construction of a fully-developed claim—an extensively supported, comprehensive presentation of your case that not only enhances the probability of success but also typically results in quicker approvals. (Our specialization lies in assisting veterans in constructing and winning claims through this method!)
To create a Statement in Support of Claim, you should utilize VA Form 21-4138. We strongly recommend using VA Form 21-4138 as a means to furnish essential supporting evidence for most claims.
Under what circumstances should I consider utilizing a Buddy Letter?
Although many veterans can forgo the acquisition of a buddy letter to back their claim, there are indeed specific situations where a buddy letter could enhance the strength of your claim. Claims that might find value in a buddy letter encompass:
Claims Related to Combat Situations
The VA has the potential to misplace or lose files and records. However, in some cases, the term “lost medical records” implies that there were no medical records to begin with. Often, the exigencies of combat situations do not permit the opportunity to consult a corpsman or medic for obtaining medical evidence related to an in-service event or stressor. Additionally, certain injuries or incidents may not necessitate immediate medical treatment, even if they eventually lead to a ratable disability.
During such scenarios, a credible statement can significantly bolster a successful claim. A buddy letter authored by a fellow service member who was present and witnessed the incident can be the deciding factor between an approval and a denial.
Misplaced Medical Documents
Over the course of several years, the majority of medical facilities tend to discard medical records. In cases where medical records are no longer retrievable, you have the option to secure credible statements to bridge the gaps in your treatment history. Similar to combat-related claims where no diagnosis or treatment was administered during service, both buddy letters and personal statements can prove invaluable when official medical documentation is absent.
If you experienced an injury or incident during your military service that went undocumented, or if those records were subsequently lost, the VA is obligated to take into account and assess a statement provided by a comrade who served alongside you and witnessed the event or injury when determining service connection.
In certain situations, having someone who knew you prior to your military service and observed your post-service life can be advantageous. This is particularly significant in cases related to mental health disabilities.
For instance, many veterans returning from combat zones may exhibit symptoms of PTSD or other mental health conditions but often delay seeking treatment until prompted by a concerned loved one. We’ve assisted veterans who struggled for years to reintegrate into society and lead productive lives. These individuals who have witnessed the transformations in these veterans can offer the most credible insights into the veterans’ symptoms during the period when they did not seek medical treatment or can fill the gaps left by missing medical records.
Specifically, a witness can provide a historical account of when the veteran encountered challenges in dealing with workplace stress, interpersonal relationships with colleagues, or difficulties following authority figures’ directions. A close friend or family member can furnish information regarding the veteran’s struggles with daily tasks, personal hygiene, social isolation, or any other notable changes.
Crafting a Buddy Letter
When composing a buddy letter, make use of VA Form 21-10210. Starting from early 2021, this form has replaced VA Form 21-4138, which is now exclusively reserved for personal statements (Statement in Support of a Claim).
Here’s a concise four-part template that your witness can follow when creating a buddy letter.
Sample VA Buddy Letter
Part 1: Relationship with the Veteran
In the first section, you should clarify your connection with the veteran.
“I am John Doe, and I am the spouse of [INSERT VETERAN’S NAME].
This statement is composed on behalf of [INSERT VETERAN’S NAME].
My association with [VETERAN’s NAME] dates back to 1999 when we were high school sweethearts.
Throughout the last three decades, we have maintained daily interaction.”
Part 2: Observations and Testimony
In the second section, you should provide a detailed account of what you observed or are currently witnessing concerning the event, incident, or condition. You do not need to delve into every minutiae, but rather be concise yet comprehensive.
“When I initially met [VETERAN’S NAME], before her entry into active-duty military service, she was a cheerful and carefree individual, showing no signs of any mental health issues. All of this dramatically changed in July 2004, following an unfortunate incident where she was sexually assaulted by another service member during her TDY assignment to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. It became glaringly evident to me that she was grappling with severe PTSD, depression, and anxiety.
Throughout the years, I consistently encouraged her to seek help and pursue treatment. Nevertheless, given her officer rank and her association with senior military leaders, she harbored fears of potential retaliation and reprisal.”
Part 3: Current Symptoms of the Veteran
In the third section, you should outline the ongoing symptoms associated with the disability.
“Throughout the course of our marriage, I have observed [VETERAN’S NAME] grappling with severe depression, anxiety, chronic insomnia, recurrent nightmares, difficulties in maintaining relationships, trust issues, episodes of anger, frequent panic attacks occurring 3-5 times per week, memory deficits, and sexual dysfunction, among several other challenges. The traumatic incident of rape at the hands of a fellow service member, as mentioned earlier, has left an indelible mark on her life. It is my firm conviction that this traumatic experience has made it exceedingly difficult for her to sustain normal relationships with others. This has been a significant factor contributing to the multitude of marital challenges we have faced over the years. I have absolute certainty that her PTSD, depression, and anxiety can be directly attributed to this traumatic event.”
Part 4: Affix Your Signature, Date, and Certification of Truth
In the final section, please append your signature along with the date.
Signed, John Doe
January 23, 2019
“I HEREBY CERTIFY that the information provided on this form is accurate and truthful to the best of my understanding and belief.”
The Key Takeaway
In most instances, it’s advisable to forgo the use of a buddy letter. Similar to how firsthand accounts can differ between individuals, buddy letters may, in fact, complicate matters by introducing uncertainty or casting doubt on the accuracy of a claim. The last thing you want is to create additional challenges for the VA adjudicator in their quest to establish the facts surrounding your condition.
By adhering to your own well-crafted personal statement, you retain control over the narrative, the language used, and the particulars, thereby ensuring a consistent and clear presentation.
If you have any inquiries, please do not hesitate to contact us. And if you are ready to commence your journey towards a successful VA claim, explore our expedited educational program here!
Require Additional Assistance?
A substantial number of veterans are currently receiving less compensation than they rightfully deserve for their disabilities. At Veteran Disability Claims Bootcamp, our mission is to empower you with the knowledge and guidance needed to navigate the complex claims process, ensuring you obtain the appropriate rating and compensation as mandated by the law.
Our streamlined process eliminates the uncertainty associated with filing a VA disability claim, offering unwavering support as you progress towards constructing a fully-developed claim (FDC) – an approach that expedites the rating enhancement.
If you’ve already submitted your VA disability claim and faced rejection or received a lower rating than anticipated, or if you’re unsure about how to begin the process, we encourage you to reach out to us. Seize the opportunity to schedule a FREE VA Claim Discovery Call, and discover the crucial information you may have been missing—enabling you to secure the disability rating and compensation that you genuinely deserve.