Matthew Hill: Hello and welcome to the Hill and Ponton VA Video Blog. I’m Matthew Hill here with Carol Ponton and today we are talking about buddy statements. This is the fourth part in our four-part series on buddy statements. The first one we discussed was how important they are.
Carol Ponton: Yes.
Matthew Hill: And then the second one was how to actually craft a buddy statement. The last one we just talked about was on service connection and how you can show through buddy statements your disability’s related service and this is going to be on rating so essentially, you’re already rated for a disability and now you’re trying to get an increased rating. You’re trying to get the VA to understand what the correct rating should be. And we were talking about this and we think one of the disabilities that lends itself to understanding this the best is actually PTSD.
Carol Ponton: Right.
Matthew Hill: A lot of times you have PTSD, it’s just the perfect storm when it comes to veterans who aren’t really self-aware, they don’t know how bad it is. On top of that, they don’t want to talk about it, they don’t want to think about it. When they go see their doctors, they don’t want their doctors to do something to them, put them on medication, lock them up and so they don’t tell their doctors how it’s going. And so a lot of times you’ll get a veteran to where you see exams, you even see discontinuing treatment records showing … guy seems pretty okay, he’s coping with it but once you talk to those around him, family, friends, bosses, you realize that’s not the case at all.
Carol Ponton: Right. We recommend buddy statements for, first of all, the veteran. When we talk to the veteran I pull out DBQs, or disability questionnaires that … benefit questionnaires that the VA has online and there’s a really good one for PTSD and it goes down all of the criteria they think you need in order to be service connected for PTSD and what they’re looking for as the problems that come with that. And so I like to ask the veteran about each one of those criteria and then I go through all the symptoms that people have. And I want to make sure they’re telling me the truth because, as you said, most people … It’s horrible to have to talk about it and think about it but I tell them this is the one time we really need to let the VA know what’s going on with you.
Carol Ponton: I go through all of that and then I ask who’s the person that knows you the best. Are you married? Do you have family members? And then we talk to them and we tell the veterans, don’t get upset with these people. These are the people that are helping us paint a picture of how this disease has really harmed your life and when you go to them and you need to know what issues to talk about and that’s why this form is so helpful because you start saying is he paranoid? Is he unable to be around people? Does he have trust issues? Anger issues? Give me examples of those.
Carol Ponton: This buddy statement really gives you an opportunity to create a wonderful picture of how PTSD has totally affected this veteran.
Matthew Hill: I like to think about it as a total … I don’t know if it’s necessarily wonderful but it’s a way to get information that the veteran just doesn’t see. One of the biggest things any veteran, any person with PTSD will tell you is, the most horrible are the nightmares, the night terrors, the flashbacks and as bad as those are, the VA caps the rating on those at 30%. So, unfortunately, a lot of times what I see on the DBQs from doctors is that that’s what they check. Oh, this person has really bad nightmares, that’s capped but on top of that, this person might have really bad anger issues. Yells and screams just gets in fights for no reason, isolates himself, nobody wants to be around him. That’s a significant problem. And that’s a problem that would get the veteran a much higher rating. And unfortunately, it’s also one that they might not be that self-aware of.
Carol Ponton: Right. They may feel they get angry because there’s a reason that they get angry and the people that look at him say, that was way out of line for what happened.
Matthew Hill: Right, right. The response is worse. I typically start, like Carol says, with the veteran to ask them how many anger issues they have and a typical response I’ll get is, I get irritated but I don’t get angry. And so I go to well, what happens when a guy cuts you off in traffic and then you get a list of expletives, a list of curse words, and some pretty interesting stories but they still might not be aware of how overreacting that is and that’s why working with the wife, working with children, working with friends, coworkers, you can get a really good statement. And again, it goes back to getting a competent statement. You just want them to list stories that happened, facts, observations. You don’t need them to say this guy deserves benefits, you need them to lay out what exactly happened or what they see or the children being on pins and needles all the time around their dad, and why.
Carol Ponton: And what to put in is just as important as what you leave out. And that’s really right, please don’t put this person deserves benefits, he’s a really nice guy. He may be all that and he may deserve that but when you put that in there, all of a sudden the VA says, is this subjective? Are you really trying to plead his case or are you … What are doing here? So don’t distract the VA. You can win his case by telling the truth. It’s like seeing a movie, you want to paint a picture of what you see with this veteran.
Matthew Hill: Right. There’s a time and place for the argument, the persuasion and that’s your VSO or your attorney actually writing a letter but the point of a buddy statement, the power of the buddy statement, is the reflection of the facts and of the stories because the VA can’t make that go away. What gets the veteran a proper rating is just showing the VA a day in the life and in a service connection case they might be able to hide the service records, they might be able to not get something but this is what’s really going on day-to-day and that’s the power of the buddy statement.
Carol Ponton: Well, the other power that I see is, think about the person, the decision review officer, he reads case after case after case. You want to make this personal, you want to make this so that the person knows what you’re living with and all of a sudden they can see, oh my gosh, this is really awful. This is your chance to tell your story so make sure it’s complete.
Matthew Hill: Well, thank you for tuning in. Again, this was the fourth part of the four-part series of buddy statements and the power they have on a veteran’s claim. Thank you.