Matthew: Hello, and welcome to another edition of the Hill & Ponton Veterans Video Blog. I’m Matthew Hill.
Carol: I’m Carol Ponton.
Matthew: Today, we’d like to talk to you about buddy statements and how they relate to proving a disability is related to service or proving service connection. First of all, buddy statements are, as they sound, statements that veterans get from friends, from relatives, people they served with, and they verify or corroborate what the veteran is saying. They’re offered as proof as to something that happened to the veteran.
That’s what we’re talking about in this case. We talk about service connection. A lot of times the veterans we see served decades ago and so there are no service records or medical records, which is not something to verify what they see, and that’s how these buddy statements could be so powerful, because those who knew them then could speak to what was going on.
Carol: Right. I had a case where this client was in the service and he had terrible pulmonary problems right after he finished basic.
Matthew: Lung problems.
Carol: Pulmonary lung. And he ended up being discharged ultimately because of the lung problems, but the VA denied him service connection because they said he had it preexisting before he came in the service, even though on his intake physical nothing was mentioned there. They had denied him for years.
What we did is we got statements from his mother, statements from his brother and sister, and statements from one of his friends, who said, “I went to school with him, I lived with him, he never had this problem.”
The sister said, “I can remember when I first heard this problem. He had come home on leave after basic training, and he was coughing and he sounded like he couldn’t breathe, and that’s the first time I ever heard that.”
Matthew: As Carol is saying, that’s a situation where there was no record of what happened back then unfortunately because it is gone, it had been decades, but he still had those connections to those people.
Carol: Right. Remember, these cases are not ones that you may win at the regional office, but when you get to the Board of Veterans Appeals, they’re going to look at all the evidence and buddy statements are very important to them.
In this one, for instance, the sister said, “I know he didn’t have problems because we used to march in a parade.” She said, “Sometimes these parades – I remember it was a Macy’s parade – would go on forever in bad weather.” She said, “He had no lung problems at all.”
You can get some pretty powerful statements from people that will help you win your case. Remember, if you can, you want to put them on a Form 4138.
Matthew: Two ways. The easy way is the Form 4138 because the VA considers that as a signed affidavit. The other way is an affidavit where you go get a notary.
Carol: You have to swear that it’s true. The 4138 is an automatic swearing. You fill it out and sign it. You’re swearing that it’s the truth.
Matthew: Right. I’ll give you one other time where I see this time and again, and I know Carol does, in the power of buddy statements for service connection, and that is when a veteran is claiming PTSD due to an in-service personal assault or military sexual trauma. The VA has admitted that the records of that happening either didn’t exist or were thrown out. This is an area where you can show through a veteran’s family statement saying, “Look, my daughter was this way, happy-go-lucky cheery, cheerful, just star of the universe just beforehand. Then afterwards, she was withdrawn, she was sullen, she was depressed all the time.”
Carol: Totally different person.
Matthew: Totally different person. And those become very powerful because in these MST situations, it is almost impossible to find records of what happened, so buddy statements become really, really powerful.
Carol: They become the key to winning your case.
Matthew: Yes. Again, that’s for the service connection element is showing.
Carol: Remember, once again, you may not win at the regional office. You have to go to the Board of Veterans Appeals in many of these cases, and they have been doing an excellent job of reading all the evidence and realizing, look, these people knew them, they knew what was happening, and we’re going to go with this, and they grant service connection in many cases.
Matthew: The VA cannot just disregard a statement because it wants to. They can’t just say, “Oh, I’m not going to.”
Carol: Let’s say, they shouldn’t.
Matthew: The law is they can’t.
Carol: Right, that’s the law.
Matthew: As Carol is saying, you’re dealing with a judge who has a law degree at the Board of Veterans Appeals and we find that they not only know the law, but they apply the law in a much more careful way.
Carol: They do. It’s funny, I’ve had people that came to me and said, “I don’t have any witnesses. I don’t know anybody who can help me.” But after you talk to them for a while, it’s amazing what you find. Sometimes if you talk to their family, it’s amazing what they know – things that happened at that time that they didn’t tell the veteran. They kept it to themselves. Or maybe they told their friend and their friend remembers it very clearly about what happened.
These are powerful things and they’re a key part of winning so many of these cases, particularly the MST.
One other thing is Vietnam. This is a wonderful way that won. This guy was a plane captain – is that what you call them? He’s in charge of the plane on the ship that was offshore. He didn’t qualify for the Agent Orange connection for his diabetes, but he said, “I used to fly in to Da Nang, fly in to Saigon, we’d drop off things, pick up other things, and stay there for a while.”
He found someone he knew who actually had dinner with him in Vietnam, and by using that buddy statement, he won the service connection. Buddy statements are powerful.
Matthew: They are. If you believe you have a disability related to service and there’s nothing in your service records, there’s nothing that shows a very obvious service connection, don’t give up until you’ve at least looked for buddies or for friends and family who can prove what you went through. If that doesn’t happen, so be it. But just remember the power of this evidence and it’s evidence that can prove your claim even without there being anything in your records.
Thank you for listening. For Carol Ponton, I’m Matthew Hill, and this was another Veterans Disability Blog. Thank you.