Many veterans are not aware of just how important a well written “buddy statement” can be to their claim for service connected compensation with the VA. A buddy statement can come from your spouse, friends, pastor, adult children, or from a fellow servicemen. At times a credible buddy statement can be the key to winning your claim with the VA. In fact, there are times that a well written buddy statement is the only additional evidence besides your own testimony that confirms an in service event or injury.
The VA has a duty to assist veterans in the development of their claim. This obligation requires them to give the benefit of the doubt to a veteran when the record lacks medical evidence because either none existed or the records were lost or destroyed. The duty also requires that the VA review and consider all lay evidence, including buddy statements in support of the veteran’s claim. So, when do you need a buddy statement?
Because medical facilities are only required to keep records for a limited time frame, generally in the realm of 7 – 10 years, many records relating to a claim can be destroyed due to routine maintenance. When these situations arise, the medical records are no longer available, and you can obtain a buddy statement to fill in the gaps in treatment dates.
An example of a time when no records exist and a buddy statement can help a claim is a veteran returning from duty that experiences symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. Many veterans will fail to seek treatment for their symptoms until a loved one or close friend urges them to do so. Often, a veteran seeks to reintegrate into society, to get back to his normal day-to-day routine, and to lead his life as he did before going into service. While he is doing this, those close to him start noticing changes from the before he went to serve.
The individuals who witness these changes can provide the most credible observations of the veteran’s symptoms between his return from service and when he seeks medical treatment. This type of evidence can provide a narrative of what kind of problems the veteran experienced and when he experienced them. An example of a change documented this way could be a veteran who always attended church before service begins to experience PTSD symptoms, and upon return no longer attends. Or, if he does attend, he must be near the door or have his back to the wall due to avoidance symptoms or hypervigilance.
Buddy statements can additionally provide an insight into problems that the veteran is having with other individuals, coping with stress at work, his ability to relate to and work with co-workers, or accepting and following instructions of a supervisory figure. These type of statements can come from coworkers or supervisors at the veteran’s place of employment. A close friend or relative can comment on the veteran’s difficulties with day-to-day activities, such as isolating, maintaining hygienic practices or any other changes noticed during that period.
Buddy statements can additionally supplement a veteran’s personal statement. We know that the VA can lose or misplace documents, but there are times that medical records just do not exist. This can occur when the veteran did not seek immediate medical treatment or could not make it to sick bay for one reason or another. When a veteran has suffered an injury or event in service, but there is no record, or the record was destroyed, then a statement from a service member who served with you and witnessed the event or injury has to be weighed and considered by the VA when determining service-connection.
For example, a veteran filed a claim for residuals of a shoulder injury he sustained during basic training. The VA attempted to obtain the veteran’s service medical records but was unable to do so because they had been destroyed in a fire. The veteran obtained a statement from a serviceman who witnessed the incident as well as medical evidence supporting his assertion that the original injury that occurred in service was the result of his current shoulder problems. The VA determined that lay evidence could be competent and sufficient in this case to identify a medical condition, and the buddy statement supported the veteran’s diagnosis that was rendered, years later, by a medical professional.
It is important that the witness issuing the statement describes what happened in as much detail as possible. If the witness can provide names and dates, their credibility increases.
The VA retains the discretion to make the determinations of credibility when evaluating a statement in support of your claim. With that said, it is important to realize in cases where you need a buddy statement to substantiate the in service event, you may not win at the regional office. Many times, it will be necessary to go to the Board of Veterans Appeals (BVA). If you do not win at the regional office, do not lose faith. The BVA will consider the statements carefully, and are very good at recognizing that those close to the veteran knew what was going on. This in turn leads to a better chance of getting service connection for the claimed disability at the Board level.
Thank you for your service.