An importance source of evidence that can be gathered by a veteran fighting for service connection or an increased rating is buddy statements. A buddy statement is a written statement from an individual who has knowledge about the Veteran’s sickness, disease or injury. Buddy statements are often written by the Veteran’s spouse, family members, friends, or fellow service members. They provide important information corroborating, or backing up, the veteran’s claim. These statements can be extremely helpful in situations where records were lost, destroyed or never existed.
Under the Veteran’s Claims Assistance Act of 2000 (VCAA), the VA has a duty to assist veterans in developing a claim for a service-connected disability. If a Veteran’s records lack sufficient evidence, the VA must consider lay evidence, such as buddy statements, which support the veteran’s claim. Let’s say a Veteran suffers an injury or event in service but no record is available as evidence but a fellow service member witnessed the event. The fellow service member can write a statement of what they witnessed and this evidence must be considered by the VA when determining service-connection.
Buddy statements for service-connection claims should include content focused on the incident that happened in service causing the disability. Most of these statements will come from fellow servicemen. For example, for disabilities incurred or aggravated during combat, if service records do not show that the Veteran was involved in combat and the Veteran knows a fellow service member who witnessed his injury, a buddy statement can be written to corroborate the Veteran’s claim. Statements from fellow servicemen are also important in situations like corroborating a PTSD stressor or being stationed in an area the VA has recognized as exposed to Agent Orange.
For claims that are already service-connected but the veteran is looking for an increased rating, the focus is not on the incident in service that produced the disability. The focus of the statement is on the progression of symptoms and how the condition has affected the Veteran and those close to him or her. Statements from family and friends of how the Veteran has changed or how their health has deteriorated since the incident causing the disability can be crucial for an increased rating. A family member who lives with the Veteran sees how they are affected by a condition every day and can provide a narrative of how the condition affects the Veteran’s daily life. When the Veteran files for an increased rating, the Veteran may undergo a Compensation and Pension examination. This examination just shows one day of the Veteran’s life with the condition and that day the severity of symptoms may not be apparent to the doctor. Buddy statements can be powerful to show the severity of the Veteran’s condition on a daily basis.
When formatting a buddy statement, it should always include the contact information for the “buddy” writing the statement including their full name, address, and phone number. The full name of the Veteran the statement is being written for should also be provided. The statement should contain the buddy’s perception of what they witnessed, whether it is the incident that caused the disability or the progression of symptoms. The statement needs to be signed by the buddy on a VA 4138 form. If it is not on the VA 4138 form, the statement must be notarized. This is because the VA wants the statement in a format where the person writing the statement is swearing that what they write is the truth.
If a Veteran knows someone who has knowledge about his or her disabilities, the Veteran may want to ask the individual to provide a buddy statement, which can add to the evidence that supports their claim.