When seeking disability benefits through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, veterans need to prove that their injury or illness is connected to military service. An important source of evidence that can be gathered by veterans fighting for service connection or an increased rating is buddy statements.
Buddy statements, or buddy letters, provide firsthand information about the incident that caused the disability, as well as the disability itself. A substantial buddy statement can be critical to a veteran’s VA disability benefits. This guide will break down the basics of buddy statements, how to ask for one when making your VA disability claim, and how to write one for another veteran.
What Are 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. In order to get started, you will have to use VA Form 4138 for your buddy statements.
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.
What Should a Buddy Statement Include?
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 service members. For example, for disabilities incurred or aggravated during active duty 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 service members are also important in situations like corroborating a post-traumatic stress disorder (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.
4 Tips for Asking for Substantial Buddy Statements
- Be clear about the goal of the statement. Before you begin asking friends or family members to write buddy statements for your claim, it is important for you to consider what your goal is for the statements. For example, if your claim is for an increased rating for PTSD, you will want your buddy statements to focus on what symptoms those individuals have noticed over the past few years. Specifically, your goal is to show that your symptoms have gotten worse and that those around you have noticed your worsening symptoms during the timeframe covered by your claim for an increased rating. Therefore, you will want to choose individuals to write statements who have firsthand knowledge of your increasing symptoms. In a claim for an increased rating for PTSD, you will want to ask your “buddies” to describe anything they noticed about your mental health functioning, such as increased irritability, anger, depression, hypervigilance, anxiety, nightmares, and so on. The more detail they can give, the better, especially if they can point to specific incidents that they remember.
- Ask the right people for the statement. If your claim is for service connection, the focus of your buddy statements will be different. For instance, if your claim is for a back condition due to a fall in service, the most persuasive buddy statement will be from someone who has firsthand knowledge of that fall. Most likely, that will be a fellow service member. Many veterans struggle to find fellow service members to corroborate incidents during service, especially if many years have passed since their service, but if you are able to find someone who is willing to give you a buddy statement to support your claim, again, the more detail the better. If you are unable to locate someone who remembers the incident during service, you may want to try talking to family members or friends who you made have told about the incident when it happened. For instance, if you sent a letter home to a friend about your fall during service, they can write a statement about the details of your letter.
- Don’t forget about former employees or coworkers. If one of your goals is a total disability rating based on individual unemployability, a good potential source for buddy statements is former employers or coworkers. They may be able to speak to your level of functioning in the workplace, specifically any accommodations you were given or problems that your disability caused. As you can tell, you will want to keep in mind when asking “buddies” for statements whether you are looking for service connection or an increased rating.
- Double check the formatting. 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. As mentioned previously, 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.
How to Write a VA Buddy Letter: Tips to Consider
If a veteran has asked you to write a buddy statement, remember that following a few best practices can help the veteran earn VA benefits for their injury or illness. In general, you’ll want to stick to three to four paragraphs. The letter should include:
- Your name and relationship to the veteran
- Details about the in-service occurrence that caused the injury or illness
- Details about the veteran’s current injury or illness
- Your signature
Here are some tips to help you write the letter:
- Be clear about your relationship with the veteran. In the first section of the buddy letter, state your name and how you know the veteran. It can also be useful to state how long you have known the veteran. For example, you might say, “My name is __________, and I served in the United States Army with [Veteran]. We entered the service together in 2001 and were deployed to Afghanistan.”
- Include as many details as possible. In the second section of the buddy statement, you will write about the service-connected injury or illness, as well as the event that caused it (if applicable). Be sure to include as many details as possible. For example, “In January of 2002, I witnessed the bomb blast that caused [Veteran] to fall backwards and hit his head. [Veteran] spoke often of headaches, dizziness, and tinnitus after receiving medical treatment.”
- Include only the information you know. While you want to include as many details as you can, it’s important to only include information that you know is true. So, if you are writing a buddy statement for a family member with PTSD, you might write, “My brother, [Veteran], currently shows signs of anger issues, anxiety, panic attacks, and insomnia. He has angry outbursts about three times per week.” Be sure to only include facts like this if you know that they’re true.
- Remember to sign and date the letter. When you sign the letter and add the date, you’ll want to include a statement that certifies that you’re telling the truth in the buddy letter. This typically says, “I certify that the statements on this form are true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.”
VA Buddy Letter Example
While each VA buddy statement will be slightly different, here is a VA buddy letter example to consider. In this example, the brother of a veteran is writing on behalf of his brother with PTSD.
“To whom it may concern,
My name is John Doe, and I am the brother of veteran [Insert Veteran’s Name]. I am writing this statement on behalf of [Insert Veteran’s Name].
I have known [Insert Veteran’s Name] for his entire life, and we currently live in the same town. I spend time with [Insert Veteran’s Name] three to four times per week.
Prior to [Insert Veteran’s Name]’s deployment to Iraq, he was a happy, kind, and energetic person. He did not show signs of anger, irritability, or anxiety before his time in the service.
Following [Insert Veteran’s Name]’s discharge from active duty in Iraq, I noticed a significant change in his behavior. [Insert Veteran’s Name] displayed angry outbursts about three times per week. He has trouble sleeping, and speaks to me regularly about his panic attacks. [Insert Veteran’s Name] has also spoken to me about his mental health issues, including flashbacks to his time in active duty service. These symptoms have affected [Insert Veteran’s Name]’s ability to hold a job, spend time with his family, and enjoy daily life.
[Insert Veteran’s Name]’s PTSD symptoms have persisted, and he still experiences symptoms today. I believe that his post-traumatic stress disorder resulted from the mental stress of combat and active duty.
November 1, 2020
I certify that the statements on this form are true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.”
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. While buddy statements are not a replacement for a nexus from a medical professional, these letters are another important component of a veteran’s disability claim or appeal for a higher VA rating.
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