Not all evidence for your VA Disability Claim needs to be from a doctor or your service record. A statement from a friend, family member, or someone you served with can be very effective evidence when trying to receive service connection or an increased evaluation for a service-connected condition. To maximize results, there are some guidelines to follow.
No matter what the statement’s purpose may be, each statement should:
The statement does not need to be made on a form, but if using one, use VA Form 21-4138.
Statements in support of claims establishing a nexus between a current disability and service can be used to establish a stressor for PTSD or an in-service injury or event. For example, if someone experiences a sexual assault while in service, and a friend or family member was aware of or witnessed it, they could write a statement attesting to that knowledge describing what they know or saw.
Statements can also be used to support a claim for an increased evaluation for a service-connected condition. For the statement to be effective, one should review the requirements for the next higher evaluation(s) and determine which symptoms the Veteran has. The statement should focus on those symptoms and be based on what the person writing has witnessed. For example, a higher evaluation for headaches is warranted when a Veteran has more frequent prostrating attacks. A friend’s statement should focus on the frequency of headaches and the symptoms witnessed. If the person has special skills allowing him or her to give a professional opinion (if they are a mental health or other healthcare professional, for example), they should include that information as well.
Lay statements are statements from friends, family members, fellow servicemembers, or anyone else who knows you. Lay statements may be used in support of disability benefits claims, but they can also be used against you if you aren’t careful. It’s important to understand the strengths and weaknesses of lay statements in support of claims so you can leverage them wisely.
When using a lay statement in support of a claim, you must remember that consistency is key. Your memories of a traumatic event may not be accurate, especially if that traumatic event affected your mental health or brain. Furthermore, you may remember extra details about a traumatic event later down the road.
That said, even though this is a known medical phenomenon, your credibility could be degraded or attacked if you or others providing lay statements in support of a claim give inconsistent statements, weakening your claim in the eyes of the VA. Inconsistencies could be viewed as immaterial or used to show that you aren’t being truthful.
Therefore, you must not have inconsistent lay statements on your claim record. If you plan to use lay statements in support of a claim, review them before submitting them so you can iron out any inconsistencies regarding details, symptoms, and other details.
Furthermore, the statements from your friends and family members can be very powerful if they use their own words. Your friends and family members should only speak to what they have seen and what they know, and they should write their statements themselves.
Not only does this avoid legal issues (lay statements presumed to be written by you could be held as invalid), but it also helps to reinforce your own claims regarding your injury symptoms or disabilities.
Lay statements should provide specific details that only the writer can know. For instance, your spouse may have grounds to note mood swings in your day-to-day life, while your coworkers may have reasonable grounds to claim that you can’t pay attention as well as you used to.
A brother who lives across the country, on the other hand, may not be around you enough to make a believable lay statement for either of the above two claims.
Lay statements can be very helpful in a variety of situations. For instance, if the VA is trying to dispute that a traumatic event or injury occurred during your time in service, and your service medical records don’t show that you received any treatment for the injury or traumatizing event, lay statements can help by:
In this way, lay statements may provide you with the extra details you need to get a successful disability benefits decision or successfully appeal a decision.
Our team of Veterans’ attorneys fights for Veterans who don’t receive the benefits they need and deserve. Our firm was founded by John Stevens Berry Sr., a three-tour Vietnam Veteran who, upon his return to the United States, focused on helping soldiers coming home from war. Today, many of our attorneys and staff are Veterans themselves, with former service members from each of the four branches.
If you have a rating decision that needs to be appealed and you would like assistance in doing so, please contact our office for a free consultation.
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