When it comes to filing a successful disability claim through the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), presenting enough evidence is vital.
The right types of evidence establish that your disability originated from your military service, making you eligible for the well-deserved veterans’ disability benefits.
While medical evidence plays a significant role in VA claims, it’s essential to understand that veterans can also gather lay evidence.
In this comprehensive blog post, we delve into the foundations of lay evidence for VA claims.
We explore what lay evidence entails, its significance, and the different forms it can take, in order to equip you with the knowledge necessary for building a strong VA disability claim.
What is Lay Evidence?
Lay evidence refers to the evidence provided by individuals who do not possess specialized education, training, or expertise in a particular field.
It involves facts and circumstances that can be observed and described by anyone without requiring the testimony of experts for proof or verification.
In our daily lives, we often rely on lay evidence.
We observe situations, actions, or behaviors and can relay those facts to others without the need for expert validation.
The VA recognizes various forms of lay evidence in disability compensation claims, and we will discuss each type in detail below.
One powerful form of lay evidence is the buddy statement.
These statements provide crucial details about the incident during military service that led to injury or illness, as well as the current symptoms of the veteran’s disability.
While fellow service members are often the ones providing buddy statements, they can also come from family members, co-workers, or individuals who have witnessed the impact of the disability firsthand.
Buddy statements can serve as important evidence when there are limited or no official records of the events.
For example, a buddy statement can come from a parent who witnessed a noticeable change in their child’s behavior, a spouse who observed their partner experiencing severe pain or difficulty performing certain tasks after an injury, or a service member who witnessed a fall or head trauma that went unrecorded.
These statements can replace missing medical records as evidence and may also corroborate professional medical opinions.
Buddy statements can be submitted using VA Form 21-4138, the Statement in Support of Claim form.
Lay Evidence of Medical Conditions
The use of lay evidence becomes slightly more complex when it comes to medical conditions.
While medical diagnoses must be provided by experts such as doctors or psychiatrists, various medical information can still be used as evidence of an in-service injury or illness when presented by individuals within their scope of knowledge and training.
For instance, anyone can relay observations such as loss of consciousness, bleeding, broken bones, or specific symptoms.
It falls well within the scope of general knowledge to report what we observe.
However, individuals with specialized training, such as EMTs or firefighters with paramedic training, can offer more detailed observations within their specific field of expertise.
Although they cannot provide diagnoses, their reports can offer valuable insight beyond what an average lay person may be able to provide.
Examples of what you can and cannot report with lay evidence are:
|Can not report with lay evidence:||Can report with lay evidence:|
|Alzheimer’s Disease||Memory problems|
|Disc herniation||Skin disorders such as rashes|
|Bronchial Asthma||Asthma symptoms|
Knowing When to Use Expert Evidence
While lay evidence can be effective in supporting a claim for VA benefits, it’s crucial to recognize when expert evidence is necessary.
Expert testimony or evidence is required when certain aspects can only be attested to by individuals with specialized skills or knowledge.
This is particularly true for professional medical opinions, where a doctor’s expertise is essential to provide specific types of evidence.
For example, while a lay person may observe a lack of improvement after physical therapy, only a doctor can explain that it is due to herniated discs in the back.
Specific diagnoses require a medical examination by a professional in that field.
Knowing When to Use Lay Evidence
When utilizing lay evidence in your claim, the regional office responsible for processing your claim will make determinations based on several factors.
They will assess the competency and adequacy of the lay evidence, weigh it against other evidence, and make credibility determinations to establish the connection between your disability and military service.
Remember, it is always better to provide more evidence than less.
If you are uncertain about the admissibility of lay evidence, consult with a representative or attorney, or submit it to the regional office for their determination based on the criteria mentioned above.
Don’t Give Up!
Never lose hope or abandon your claim, even if you can only provide lay evidence to support it.
Often, there is more evidence waiting to be discovered—a missing deck log, a buried medical record—that can strengthen your case.
Many organizations have professionals skilled in unearthing such evidence, and their staff is adept at finding those concise statements or records that can make a significant difference.
So, persevere, ask questions, seek assistance, and never give up.
Remember, sometimes that lay statement can be the deciding factor between a successful claim and a denied one.
Have Questions About Your Lay Evidence VA Claim?
If you are appealing a claim and want to include lay evidence, the team at Hill & Ponton can help.
We specialize in veterans’ disability cases and have a 96% success rate with the cases we take on.
Our veterans’ law experts are available to guide veterans through the claims process and appeals requirements, so you can obtain the veterans’ benefits you deserve.
The team at Hill & Ponton may be able to assist you with a denial of benefits. Click the button below to get more information.
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