Our blogs often talk about how a veteran should handle a claim for a particular disability, including forms to file, evidence to submit, and how to appeal whenever the VA incorrectly decides an issue. When we discuss the evidence to submit, we often refer to “credible evidence” whether it is credible evidence of a combat stressor, personal assault, or herbicide exposure. However, we rarely get into what makes evidence credible or not, and what it means when the VA finds that evidence is not credible.
First off, one has to ask what is credible in the VA world?
It is not uncommon to see a decision whether from the Regional Office (RO) or the Board of Veteran’s Appeals (BVA) that states, “The Board concludes that the Veteran’s statements are not credible.” The dictionary defines credible as “able to be believed; convincing.”
In much the same way as the VA mucks up other areas that should be cut and dry, the simple definition of credible has been mangled. In reality, the VA is using the definition above, but looking at credibility through an adversarial lens. The decision makers at the VA are viewing the evidence with three things in mind: the integrity of the evidence, the potential for bias, and perception.
Integrity here refers to the integrity of the facts in question. Is there a link for every piece in the chain of events? Does everything add up like it should? If there is a link missing or an equal sign before the equation is complete, the decision maker is likely to find the evidence lacks integrity, and is therefore not credible. As mentioned above, the decision maker is not calling the veteran a liar per se, but rather taking a step back and saying to himself, “wait a second… what?”
Potential for Bias
The decision maker is also going to take into account the potential for bias in a statement or evidence offered. What this means is that the decision maker is likely going to give more weight, and respectively consider more credible, statements by someone without a stake in the claim. This does not mean that a veteran’s statement is ignored, but statements by third parties are more likely to reinforce what the veteran is saying.
Finally, the decision maker is going to consider perception. Did the veteran or the witness, actually see, or experience what they are describing. Someone who saw what they are describing is far more credible than someone who “thinks” that something happened or “heard” that something happened.
For example, a veteran is claiming chemical exposure. If the veteran can say, “Yes, I handled this chemical, used it on a regular basis and was covered in chemical X daily,” this is a much more credible statement than “The chemical was used on base and I was exposed to it.” These type of statements can be made even more credible through corroborative statements of others.
So, how do you boost your credibility when submitting evidence to the VA?
One way is to submit a sworn statement. A statement sworn to be true “under penalties of perjury” is going to carry more weight than a statement signed “Very truly yours, Joe.” When submitting evidence, many veterans choose to use the VA Form 21-4138, Statement in Support of Claim, but these do not contain a perjury statement verbatim, but contains “true and correct to the best of my knowledge” language.
Another way to boost credibility was touched on above, corroborative evidence. Corroborative evidence is submitting evidence that tends to make the statement more likely to be true. Examples are service records, military records, deck logs, buddy statements that also refer to the use of chemical X or that can say “Joe used chemical X.” Any of these things can provide the necessary boost to push a veteran’s evidence from “not credible” to “credible.”
Thank you for your service and taking the time to read this blog.