As an organization who helps veterans who have honorably served our nation, we understand the challenges that come with navigating the VA disability benefits claims process.
We know how important it is to have the right knowledge and evidence to strengthen your case and ensure that your sacrifices are properly acknowledged and supported.
In this comprehensive guide, we delve into the realm of evidence—a crucial component that can significantly impact the success of our VA disability benefits claims.
Our goal is to empower you with the understanding needed to navigate this process effectively.
Together, we’ll uncover the key types of evidence recognized by the VA, equipping you with the tools to build a strong case and secure the benefits you rightfully deserve.
Think of evidence as the solid foundation upon which your claim rests.
It serves as tangible proof, validating your service-related injuries and conditions, and paving the way for the benefits you are entitled to.
However, before we get into the specific types of evidence, it’s important to grasp the basic concepts and terminology associated with evidence in VA disability benefits claims.
Join us on this enlightening journey as we uncover the power of medical evidence, the significance of lay statements, the weight carried by supporting documentation, and the role played by expert opinions and specialist reports.
Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be better prepared to build a compelling case that resonates with the decision-makers at the VA.
Understanding Evidence in VA Disability Benefits Claims
Evidence forms the backbone of your VA disability benefits claim.
It serves as the proof that substantiates your service-related injuries and conditions, demonstrating their connection to your military service.
The VA relies on evidence to evaluate the severity and impact of your disabilities, determining the level of benefits you may be eligible to receive.
To navigate the VA disability benefits claims process effectively, it’s essential to grasp some basic concepts related to evidence.
Here are the key points to understand:
Evidence refers to any information, documents, or materials that support your claim and provide proof of your service-related disabilities.
The VA recognizes various types of evidence when evaluating disability claims.
Some common types include:
- medical evidence
- lay statements
- supporting documentation (such as military service records)
- deck logs
- expert opinions
- specialist reports
Each type of evidence carries a different level of relevance and weight in the VA’s decision-making process.
Medical evidence, for instance, is highly significant, as it directly relates to your claimed disabilities.
Understanding the relative importance of different types of evidence can help you prioritize and gather the strongest evidence for your claim.
Will the VA help get my records for evidence?
The VA has a “duty to assist” veterans with obtaining evidence for their VA claim.
In addition to retrieving evidence, they will also notify veterans of what claim evidence they may need in order to have a successful case.
Compensation & Pension exams (C&P) are often a part of this.
Even with the VA’s assistance, be sure you are aware of the evidence you have collected and keep track of everything in detail.
The VA can and does make mistakes, and you are your own best advocate!
Gathering Medical Evidence
In VA disability benefits claims, medical evidence plays a crucial role in substantiating your service-related disabilities and their impact on your daily life.
Let’s explore the key aspects of gathering strong medical evidence to support your claim.
Medical records serve as a cornerstone of your VA disability benefits claim.
They can include in-service medical records, private medical records, VA medical records, C&P exam results and other medical opinions.
These records provide comprehensive documentation of your medical history, diagnoses, treatments, and any service-related injuries or conditions.
Here’s what you need to know about gathering medical records:
- Importance of Comprehensive Records: Collect all relevant medical records, including those from VA facilities, private healthcare providers, military medical facilities, and specialists. These records should cover the period of your military service and continue to the present day.
- Requesting Medical Records: Contact your healthcare providers and request copies of your medical records. Be sure to include records from all relevant medical professionals, such as primary care physicians, specialists, therapists, and any VA medical centers you have visited.
- Organizing and Reviewing Records: Create a system to organize your medical records, ensuring they are easily accessible when needed. Review the records carefully to identify and highlight any information relevant to your claimed disabilities.
Private Medical Records
In some cases, you may get a private examination to further evaluate your disabilities and their connection to your military service.
A veteran can request their records directly from a provider, or if they sign a release form the VA can request them.
Nexus letters can be powerful evidence in your VA disability benefits claim, especially when establishing the connection between your current disabilities and your military service.
Here’s some useful information about nexus letters:
- Nexus letters are medical opinions provided by healthcare professionals that establish a link, or nexus, between your current disabilities and your military service. These letters can significantly strengthen your claim.
- To obtain a nexus letter, reach out to healthcare professionals who have treated you for your claimed conditions. Discuss the importance of a nexus letter with them and request their assistance in providing a well-documented letter that outlines the connection between your service and current disabilities.
- A strong nexus letter should include the healthcare professional’s expertise and qualifications, a clear statement linking your disabilities to your military service, and a detailed explanation supported by medical evidence.
By gathering robust medical evidence, including comprehensive medical records and obtaining compelling nexus letters, you can bolster your VA disability benefits claim.
In addition to medical evidence, lay evidence can be a valuable asset in supporting your VA disability benefits claim.
Lay evidence consists of statements or testimonies from yourself, family members, friends, or fellow service members who can provide insights into the impact of your disabilities on your daily life.
These statements can be submitted directly to the VA, and are useful in cases where a veteran is documenting frequency of symptoms to request an increase in rating.
VA Form 21-10210 “Lay/Witness Statement” can be utilized to submit lay statements and buddy statements.
Lay statements, also known as lay or buddy statements, are personal testimonies that describe the effects of your service-related disabilities on your daily functioning.
Here’s the facts on lay statements:
- Lay statements provide a unique perspective on how your disabilities affect your life. They can offer valuable insights into the severity, frequency, and limitations imposed by your conditions. The VA considers lay statements when evaluating the credibility and consistency of your claimed disabilities.
- You, as the claimant, can provide a lay statement to describe your firsthand experiences. Additionally, statements from family members, friends, or fellow service members who have observed your struggles and limitations can strengthen your claim.
- When writing a lay statement, be specific and detailed about the symptoms, limitations, and challenges you face due to your disabilities. Include information about how your conditions impact your ability to work, perform daily activities, engage in hobbies, and maintain relationships. Support your statements with specific examples and provide the contact information of the individuals providing the statement.
- Remember that lay evidence can cause credibility concerns. If you have conflicting information from multiple sources, it may hinder your case versus help, so be mindful when you are submitting all of your evidence.
Buddy statements, also known as “buddy letters”, are statements from other service members and carry weight in VA disability benefits claims.
These statements can provide firsthand accounts of incidents or events during your military service that resulted in your claimed disabilities.
Buddy statements add credibility and support to your claim by providing corroboration of the incidents or events that caused or aggravated your disabilities.
They offer a different perspective and can validate your service-related injuries or conditions
Fellow service members who witnessed or were involved in the incidents or events leading to your disabilities can provide buddy statements. They can testify to the circumstances, the impact on your health, and the continuity of your conditions since then.
Reach out to your former comrades and explain the importance of their statements.
Encourage them to provide detailed accounts, including:
- specific information about the incidents
Ensure that the statements are signed, dated, and include the contact information of the individuals providing them.
In addition to medical evidence and lay statements, supporting documentation can further strengthen your VA disability benefits claim.
These documents provide additional context and evidence to support your service-related disabilities.
Service records hold valuable information that can substantiate your military service and the occurrence of incidents or events leading to your disabilities.
Service records provide an official account of your military service, including dates, locations, and details of your assignments and deployments.
They can help establish the connection between your claimed disabilities and your time in service.
Request your service records from the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) or other relevant sources, such as your branch of service’s records department.
You will use VA Form DD-214.
Ensure you gather records that cover the period relevant to your claimed disabilities.
Review your service records thoroughly and identify any documentation related to incidents, injuries, or conditions that are connected to your current disabilities.
Highlight relevant sections and include them as supporting evidence in your claim.
Social Security Disability Benefits Records
Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) records can provide additional support for your VA disability benefits claim.
If you have received Social Security disability benefits, the documentation related to your SSDI claim can reinforce the credibility and severity of your disabilities.
While the criteria for VA and SSDI benefits may differ, the similarities in documentation can strengthen your case.
Contact the Social Security Administration to request copies of your SSDI records.
Include these records as part of your supporting documentation in your VA disability benefits claim.
When presenting your SSDI records, focus on the similarities between the conditions recognized by the Social Security Administration and those relevant to your VA disability claim.
Explain any differences in criteria and emphasize how your conditions affect your ability to work and carry out daily activities.
Expert Opinions and Specialist Reports
Expert opinions and specialist reports can provide professional medical evaluations and insights that aid your VA disability benefits claim.
Expert opinions and specialist reports provide an in-depth evaluation of your disabilities, their causes, and their impact on your life.
Professionals such as medical specialists, vocational experts, or psychological evaluators can offer specialized expertise.
Seek qualified professionals who can provide objective assessments of your disabilities.
Ensure that they are experienced in VA disability benefits claims and that their opinions or reports are thorough, well-documented, and supported by relevant medical evidence.
For Navy veterans who served within the inland waterways of Vietnam as part of the Blue Water Navy, deck logs can play a vital role in their claims.
Deck logs provide detailed records of a ship’s activities and movements during a particular period.
Here’s how deck logs can support your claim:
- Deck logs can be used to show the dates when your ship was within the inland waterways of Vietnam and the specific bays or waterways it entered. This information can be crucial in establishing eligibility for benefits related to service in these areas.
- Deck logs can also help substantiate specific incidents that occurred on board the ship. For example, if an active shooter incident took place, resulting in the development of PTSD, the deck logs can provide evidence of the incident and the details surrounding it.
To obtain deck logs, you can submit a request to the appropriate naval records repository, such as the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) or the Navy Department Library.
When filing for increased compensation from Total Disability Based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU), providing employment information is essential.
TDIU is a VA disability benefit that provides compensation for veterans at the 100% disability rate if they have a service-connected disability that prevents them from working.
Here’s how employment information can support your claim:
- You are required to disclose the names and addresses of your employers from the last five years in which you actually worked. This information allows the VA to send a form to your employers to verify the dates of your employment, your total income earned, the nature of the work you performed, and any work missed due to illnesses or disabilities.
- To expedite this step, you can proactively send a completed Form 21-4192 to your previous employers when you initially file for individual unemployability. This form requests the necessary information from your employers, helping to streamline the verification process.
If you are seeking additional compensation for your dependents, there is specific evidence required to support these claims. When applying for dependent benefits, you must complete Form 21-686c.
Here’s what you need to know:
- Marriage Verification: To prove the existence of your spouse, you may be required to submit your marriage certificate. Additionally, any prior divorce decrees related to your spouse’s previous marriages may need to be provided.
- Child Verification: To claim benefits for children, you may be required to submit their birth certificates. Ensure you have these documents readily available to avoid delays in processing your claim.
Specific Evidence Needed for Claims
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
When you file a claim for service-connected PTSD, you will need to provide a specific type of evidence called a stressor.
A stressor is the event(s) in service that caused the veteran’s PTSD.
Military Sexual Trauma (MST)
When a veteran experiences a physical assault or battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment while in service, it is called military sexual trauma (MST). It is closely linked to PTSD and other mental health disorders.
In MST cases, the VA cannot argue that a lack of evidence of the incident is counted against a veteran’s claim, because not all cases are reported in service.
Instead, if there is no report, veterans can utilize other information like requests to transfer, performance evaluations and additional service records to show behavioral changes that resulted from experiencing the traumatic event.
Throughout this guide, we have explored the key types of evidence that can strengthen your claim and increase your chances of securing the benefits you deserve.
As you prepare to submit your VA disability benefits claim, remember to gather and organize your evidence effectively.
Highlight the most relevant and compelling information, ensuring that your supporting documentation aligns with the criteria and requirements outlined by the VA.
Take pride in the sacrifices you have made in service to our nation, and remember that you deserve the support and benefits that the VA provides.
Stay resilient, persistent, and assertive throughout the claims process, and never hesitate to advocate for yourself.
Did you find this guide useful? Want more great info about filing disability claims?
If you are interested in learning more about filing for disability benefits, check out our FREE ebook The Road to VA Compensation Benefits .
We are sorry that this post was not as useful for you!
Help us improve this post!
Tell us how we can improve this post?