Gathering sufficient evidence for the VA to approve your VA disability claim can be tough, especially if your injuries or disabilities began after being honorably discharged.
VA lay statements are some of the most important things you can add to a Veterans benefits claim. The right lay statements can shift the VA’s opinion and help you get the compensation you deserve.
Read on for more information about VA lay statements, how they work, and how they can support your current disability benefits claim.
A lay statement (also called a statement in support of claim or a witness statement) is a special VA form that offers ancillary, supportive information to substantiate a VA benefits claim.
Put more simply, it’s a statement that backs up what a Veteran claims so they can prove that they deserve benefits or compensation from the VA due to a disability with a military service connection.
For example, a Veteran may file a benefits claim to recover monthly compensation for injuries sustained while on active duty. They may submit several lay statements (in addition to medical evidence) from fellow military servicemembers, family members, spouses, and others to substantiate their claim.
All this evidence combined helps the VA make a wise, accurate decision for the Veteran and provide them with the benefits they deserve for in-service injuries that affect their daily life.
To fill out a lay statement, the writer must complete VA Form 21-10210. Many different individuals may fill out this form and be attached to a standard VA disability benefits application.
Simply put, lay statements are eyewitness evidence supporting a benefits claim or application. They do not replace medical evidence or military records, so they can’t convince the VA to provide a Veteran with benefits by themselves.
However, suppose the VA is on the fence or is unsure whether the Veteran’s symptoms are as severe as they claim. In that case, the personal knowledge in a lay statement can provide the extra information needed to make the right decision.
Say that a Veteran experiences regular migraines and other mental health problems because of their service. While medical examinations reveal that the Veteran does suffer from regular headaches and other issues, it doesn’t prove just how severe the Veteran’s in-service event was.
That type of evidence can only be supplied by Veterans and people who know them.
To that end, the Veteran seeks out lay statements from people who know them. They may talk to their spouse, for instance, who can write a lay statement saying that they have personally experienced the Veteran suffering under the effects of heavy migraines that occur at once per week at least.
Thanks to this information, the VA has evidence that the Veteran’s migraines are very severe rather than infrequent. Therefore, they may give the Veteran a higher VA disability rating than they would otherwise or if they only paid attention to the medical information acquired by their examiner.
Lay statements may be provided by various individuals, not just one’s spouse. The VA doesn’t care much where a lay statement comes from, provided that the person providing the statement can prove that they are close to the Veteran and able to support their claim.
Family members can provide lay statements supporting a Veteran’s benefits claim. Family members include anyone legally related to the Veteran alongside other close individuals who are “practically family,” such as a step-parent (even if the parent never legally adopted the Veteran).
For example, if a Veteran supplies a lay statement from a grandparent that they never see, the VA will not take that statement very seriously. Suppose they receive a statement from a friend the Veteran lives with or a roommate. In that case, they may be more likely to take that statement seriously since the friend should ostensibly be able to provide accurate information about the Veteran’s conditions or discomfort.
Speaking of statements from a layperson, your friends are also appropriate sources of statements in your VA claim.
Friends can include workplace friends, roommates, and other acquaintances. Again, a key factor is that the lay statement must come from someone who reasonably can provide accurate information about the Veteran and their health conditions.
Veterans may also supply lay statements from employers. Employer lay statements can be particularly powerful, especially if the Veteran is looking to acquire total disability benefits (and if they can’t hold down a job).
An employer lay statement supporting a Veteran’s claim for benefits can help them get the compensation they need and deserve if they cannot maintain regular or substantially gainful employment.
For instance, if a Veteran is so depressed that they can’t take care of their workplace responsibilities, a statement from their employer backing this up could make a major difference in their benefits claim.
Buddy letters are lay statements from fellow servicemembers. Specifically, they come from servicemembers who served with the claimant when the injuring/disabling incident occurred.
For example, if a Veteran injured their knee while lifting heavy equipment, a buddy statement from someone deployed to the same base and doing the same job with them can be invaluable evidence for the VA.
A buddy statement must come from a servicemember who can prove that they were deployed/working in the same area as the injured Veteran and at the same time.
Veterans can also submit lay statements in support of their claims. This may be required for most disability benefits applications.
While the VA expects Veterans to substantiate their claims with their personal experiences, these statements can still be effective if the Veteran writes them correctly and includes sufficient detail.
Simply writing a lay statement is not necessarily enough to get the disability benefits you deserve. You need to know how to write a lay statement successfully and persuasively to convince the VA of your claim.
Every lay statement should be honest and authentic. If you wish to convince someone to write a lay statement on your behalf, ensure they understand the importance of honesty. If the VA investigates claims in a lay statement and finds them false, it could cause them to throw out the rest of the lay statement or treat the Veteran’s benefits application as suspect from start to finish.
For example, if a fellow service member wants to support a disabled Veteran, but they did not serve with them in the same area, they should not submit a buddy statement or claim that they saw the injuring incident.
Secondly, every lay statement should be as specific and detailed as possible. This includes lay statements submitted by a disabled Veteran.
The more specific and detailed a lay statement is, the more convinced the VA will be when a Veteran files a claim for disability benefits. A lay statement should include details as to:
Furthermore, if the person writing the lay statement has first-hand knowledge of the disabling incident – such as a fellow servicemember writing a buddy statement – they should be specific about the incident and its details.
For instance, they should break down when the incident occurred, what they noticed, and when they first saw the Veteran start to manifest symptoms of their injury or disability.
Above all, a lay statement should emphasize the credibility of the disabled Veteran. Veterans shouldn’t minimize their symptoms (as this can result in a lower disability rating than they need), but they should also not exaggerate their symptoms or make outlandish claims.
Stick to the facts, make sure the language of the lay statement is dry and detail-oriented, and ensure that your lay statement doesn’t contain any factual inaccuracies (intentional or otherwise). Knowledgeable attorneys can help you or someone else writes an effective lay statement before you submit a benefits claim.
VA lay statements are integral parts of every successful benefits claim. Because of this, you should contact friends and family and get them to write lay statements, then write one yourself.
With the right Veterans law attorneys, you can ensure your lay statements are detailed, persuasive, and informative for the VA to maximize your compensation. Contact Berry Law for help writing lay statements and other assistance with every aspect of the benefits application process.
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