There are many steps in a VA disability claim, the first of which is to actually file the claim. For purposes of this blog post, I will discuss arguably the most important step, and that is gathering and submitting as much evidence as possible in support of the claim. What kind of evidence? Let me elaborate. The “crème de la crème” for disability compensation evidence is a veteran’s Service Medical record (SMR). The VA scrutinizes for documentation of and gives significant attention and weight to the following:
- An event that occurred that had an impact on a veteran’s health
- The circumstances surrounding the event
- Subsequent treatment records of how the injury or illness was addressed at the time
- Follow-up care or treatment
Other evidence given great attention by the VA are:
- Historical records of a veteran’s unit engaging in combat or other dangerous operations
- Awards such as the Purple Heart medal, or other commendations for meritorious action.
- Buddy statements
Buddy letters are statements from friends and/or family that may be used if there is little documentation of critical events. They may or may not be helpful, depending on the credibility of the person making the statement. If the person who writes the statement was an eyewitness to an event and was an officer with leadership responsibility, the statement could be given a great deal of weight. Statements by spouses, friends, family, or others without direct knowledge of the alleged event maybe not be seen as credible and, therefore, ignored.
So where to begin. The VA has a “duty to assist” the veteran in gathering evidence. A savvy veteran will simply ignore this and act like there were no such requirements. The “duty to assist” by the VA does not guarantee that any extra effort will be made. An advocate is a veteran’s best friend when it comes to the hunting and gathering of evidence due to the numerous pitfalls of releasing confidential health records. Many providers now charge for copies of medical records, and also have 3rd party vendors to control their records releases. This can be a major road block in the claims process. Often times, military records are lost or misplaced. Getting copies of all medical and service records before leaving military service is in the veteran’s best interest. If this is not possible, the NPRC (National Personnel Records Center) in St. Louis is a great place to start. This is the repository for most military records. If the records aren’t there, they will help a veteran find other ways to locate them.
After gathering the evidence in support of a claim, the next most important aspect is how the evidence is communicated to the VA. Giving this information to the local VA Regional Office is of utmost importance. Ask any veteran who has dealt with the VA, and more often than not, they will say because of a lost piece of paper, a denial was issued. The bottom line is this; spending a little extra time in obtaining all the necessary evidence ahead of time will go a long way in helping to ensure a successful outcome a claim.