In a previous post, we discussed how to write a convincing statement in support of your claim for service connection using VA Form 4138. Most veterans will also use that form for another purpose – buddy statements. A buddy statement is statement written by a friend, family member, fellow service member, or anyone else who has knowledge of your service connected conditions. Today we are going to discuss how to get the most out of buddy statements.
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.
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.
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. For service connection claims, the incident in service will typically be the focus. For increased rating claims, you are typically focused on specific symptoms and what those around you have noticed. When you are asking “buddies” for statements, you should let them know what the focus of the statement is so they can write their statement accordingly. For a service connection claim, you may want to ask, “Can you write me a short statement about everything you remember, in as much detail as possible, about my fall during service which you witnessed?” For an increased rating claim, you may want to ask, “Can you write me a short statement about everything you have noticed about my mental health functioning the past 5 years – specifically if you have noticed increased irritability, anger, depression, hypervigilance, anxiety, nightmares, or other PTSD symptoms?” The more guidance you give your “buddies” on what exactly you are looking for in their statements – without actually writing the statement out for them – the better.
Buddy statements are a great tool to have at your disposal, especially when combined with your own statements. If you are able to write a convincing, detailed statement about your increasing PTSD symptoms and are also able to get a couple buddy statements that back up your own statement, that paints a much clearer picture of your functioning for the VA. The goal of these statements is to give the VA a complete picture of your disability, including the impact your disability has on your day-to-day life, social interactions, and employment.