When putting together a statement in support of your claimed condition, are you looking to tell the story about your injury for the first time and seeking to get service connected? Are you already service connected and seeking a rating increase? Each has their own distinct approaches. For the purposes of this blog, we will talk about some of the important elements required in producing a statement which supports a claim for direct service connection of a new claim. Methods for writing statements which support rating increases will be discussed in part II of this blog.
Needless to say, the most convincing method in substantiating an argument is cold, hard proof. Within the legal system, it’s known as corroborating evidence, evidence that is submitted to make a statement more likely to be true. Documents, pictures, testimony are all examples of corroborative evidence. They can appear in the form of service records, medical records, x-rays, MRIs, and articles and testimonies from credible sources. When both sides “The claimant (you) vs. The VA” have submitted all their hard evidence and the adjudicator is uncertain about a decision,
Writing a persuasive and stirring statement in support of your claim is in the details. No one can tell your story better than you. You’re the one that experienced the circumstances that lead to you having to file a claim. If a Decision Review Officer (DRO) or a Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) judge is “On the fence” deciding your case, a convincing Statement In Support Of Claim (VA Form 4138) can be instrumental in swaying the mediator in your favor. It’s no different than trying to persuade a relative, friend, or acquaintance to choose your side. With that in mind; remember that the level of familiarity between you and that given relationship will affect the extent of coaxing you’ll need to render in order to achieve that person’s partiality. For example, let’s say you’ve encountered an unexpected financial expense that extends you beyond your structured budget and you need help now. Would you ask a relative who might help you no questions asked because they know and trust you? How about a friend who knows your background but may require a little more explanation of the circumstances in order to help him decide to help you, An acquaintance will certainly urge you to provide more detailed information and how you plan to repay the assistance afforded you, perhaps even requiring an incentive of some kind to motivate your potential rescuer. The point being; when writing a statement meant to support and justify the assistance you know you are entitled to; you are asking a complete stranger that has the authority to decide your case, to understand your plight and choose on your behalf.
That stranger doesn’t know you or anything about your case except what he reads in your file, you have to place him in your boots. Put him in the moment of when your injury occurred. Paint a vivid picture of how you sustained your injury. Show, don’t tell; how you’ve endured the everyday anguish, distresses, and complications stemming from the injuries you incurred as a result of your service to your country during active military duty. How do you paint that picture? You paint with words; more specifically, with details. Remember the five “W”s; what, where, when, why, and who. Detail each of them specifically.
What: What is the issue you’re raising? Is there more than one?
If so, you may want to talk about each claim separately in different statements. This will help you and the reader stay focused on the issue at hand. Since your claim is for direct service connection, you are going to want to focus on the circumstances during service which resulted in your injury. We will use the same issue for the purposes of this discussion. For example, if you are claiming bilateral hearing loss based on exposure to loud noises during service, describe what it was that damaged your hearing while in service.
Where: Where were you when the injury occurred? Were you in combat? Were you involved in exercises?
Describe the environment that exposed you to the loud noise. Did you work in a closed room with loud machinery? Perhaps in the engine room of a Naval ship? Be very specific about the surroundings. Were there metal bulkheads, or overheads? Were there windows in the room or did the noise just bounce around in the room? Was it an engine room? What kind of engines? Was it hot? Starting to see the picture?
When: When did your injury happen?
Be as specific as possible about when in service your injury occurred. Provide dates and if possible the time of day. If you don’t remember the exact date or time, give a time frame. Was it a repetitive action or duty? For instance, if claiming hearing loss and you were part of a gun crew, how often were you exposed to the explosive discharge of the gun? How frequently was it fired? Was it daily, monthly, weekly, as required, or constantly?
Why: Why were you exposed to loud noises?
In most cases it’s directly tied to your MOS; it’s what your job or duties required you to do. Include your MOS and its description. Talk about how it applied to your duties. Sometimes it may not have anything to do with your job during military service. For instance, if you were off duty and exposed to a loud noise that caused acute hearing damage, write about the details involving the incident and mention witnesses or get reports from local law enforcement or a business if that’s where you were. Witnesses are a very credible source of evidence because in most cases they are impartial to your case.
Who: Who was present when your injury or exposure occurred?
Who can speak to what happened or can corroborate your explanation of the circumstances. For example; if you were an assistant on a gun crew, who else was on the crew that can verify your role in that crew. A statement from a fellow service member can be an invaluable support to your case. In many cases, their statement might be in the form of a Buddy Statement very similar to your VA Form 4138 statement which we will talk about further in part II of this blog.
It may be difficult to remember the details many years later, but if you stop and reflect, you may remember details that occurred right before or after your injury occurred. It could be that each detail you remember and talk about will lead you to remember another and so on. Writing a convincing statement in support of a claim is a great tool to have at your disposal. Provide as much detail as possible in order to make your statement come to life for the VA. Also, make sure that you are giving the VA a complete picture of your disability, including the impact your disability has on your day-to-day life, social interactions, and employability. The better and clearer a picture you paint, the easier your reader will see your side.