Matthew: Hello, and welcome to another Hill & Ponton Veterans Video Blog. I’m Matthew Hill.
Carol: I’m Carol Ponton.
Matthew: Today we want to talk to you about buddy statements as they relate to increased rate in claims. Previously on this space we talked about buddy statements and getting service connection, but buddy statements can also be very powerful when it comes to getting the proper rating.
The way the VA looks at it, when you ask for a claim for increase or say your rating is not proper, they send you to a C&P exam. Unfortunately the way the regulations are drawn out, that C&P exam is supposed to be indicative of how you are all the time. It’s that snapshot: this is you and this is how you are on a daily basis.
If you go in and you have a really bad problem with your knee where it will flare up and your knee is fine that day, guess what? They’re going to rate you as if it were fine. If you’re suffering from a mental health condition and the day you go in your depression is not bad and anxiety is not a problem, the VA is going to rate you as if you don’t have a big problem. That’s why it’s important when considering your disability to look at whether there are other things that they consider and whether there are others around you that could help them consider that.
Carol: I find that those statements are sometimes key to getting the increased rating. Sometimes when you’re doing something, you’re not as aware as your spouse or significant other because they’re watching you. It’s like watching a movie, and you don’t forget.
A lot of times they can write out exactly what happened that shows how this isn’t normal anger. This is something beyond that to get mad over the things you’ve gotten mad at, or to have an inability to connect with anybody in your family, or to be up patrolling the windows at 3:00 in the morning when there are no break-ins in your neighborhood. They can point out things that just don’t go with normal problems. It goes with something like PTSD.
Matthew: They can also reiterate or corroborate what you’re saying. A lot of times we’ll see where a veteran will have problems with migraines. The veteran will say, “These migraines make me lay down four times a week.” The VA will just send him to a C&P exam, and the C&P exam, “I don’t see these.”
Carol: “He’s not having them today.”
Matthew: Or, “I don’t see that his medical notes say that he has to lay down.” The treating doctor is typically not going to ask, “Are you laying down? How often does this make you lay down?”
Carol: Why are people who have migraines going to call the doctor anyway? There’s nothing they’ve been able to do for them, so they just do the best they can and they lie down.
Matthew: In this situation, the statement wouldn’t necessarily be to a blind spot the veteran had, but it would be to reiterate what the veteran is saying. For some reason, unfortunately, the VA has a hard time accepting that the veteran says, “I lay down four times a day,” when it’s not in the doctor’s notes.
Carol: My spouse will say, “We missed Christmas with our family because the migraine was so bad that the veteran needed to lay down in a dark room for hours. This hasn’t happened once; this has happened on many family occasions. Every week I know that three or four times a week we’re not going to be able to do things because of this unplanned migraine.” Those are the kind of real-life episodes that make people realize, “This is real. If this didn’t happen to you, you wouldn’t realize to say this.”
Matthew: It’s the same thing for something like a back problem. You go into the VA, and they want to see how far forward you can bend. For a knee problem, they want to see how much of an extension it has. But what they don’t keep in mind is that, even if the veteran can extend all the way that day, what does it look like the next day?
Carol: What if they reached over to pick up the newspaper off the ground, which is what my veterans say, threw their back out and for the next five days they couldn’t get off the couch? Those are the kinds of things that the people who live with you, the people who know you, are going to be able to say. “My dad could never go to my ball games. He can’t sit on those bleachers. He can’t stand long enough to watch.” That’s the kind of statement that really impresses the VA.
Once again, sometimes the regional office doesn’t pay attention to these buddy statement like the board of veterans’ appeals or the court of appeals does. The reason for that is these people at the BVA and at the court of appeals for veterans’ claims are lawyers. They’re trained. They know what evidence is important and what’s not. They’re going to read these, and they’re going to give a lot of priority to them if they’re written and they’re really descriptive.
Matthew: The point of a buddy statement is not to write in medical jargon or try to diagnose the veteran. It’s just to observe the who, what, when, where, how – just daily observations that the person has. As Carol said, these are incredibly important, especially just to be black or white.
A veteran has an amputation. The VA is going to see that; they go in; it’s rated. Same with a scar; they usually get that. But with something that can vary in severity day-in and day-out, to have a one-snapshot exam that says, “This is it. It’s always this way or not that way,” doesn’t do justice for the veteran.
Carol: No. You will find the examiner saying, “The veteran said they have flare-ups, but it would be speculative for me to say. I’m not seeing that.” Whereas, if you have somebody who lives with you — your kids, your family, a neighbor – saying, “I’ve been cutting his lawn; he can’t cut his lawn; the last time he tried to cut it, he was laid up for days,” those are the things that are very impressive.
Once again remember, you need a buddy statement, but you need it notarized or on a 4138 form. Other than that it’s not sworn to, and the VA wants something that you swear is the truth.
Matthew: Thanks for tuning into another Veterans Disability Blog. I’m Matthew Hill, and this is Carol Ponton, and we will see you on this space sometime soon.