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Writing Convincing VA Statements in Support of Claim
When filing a VA disability claim, former military service members can fill out the VA Form 21-4138, also known as the Statement in Support of Claim. This is a multi-purpose form that has been used by the VA for many years, on which veterans are able to write any information that they would like the VA to know. You can find this claim form on VA.gov. One important use of the VA Form 21-4138 is in the title of the form itself – writing a statement in support of your claim for service connection.
When building your case for service-connection with the United States Department of Veterans Affairs, an avenue of collecting evidence that Hill & Ponton often pursues is gathering official statements from veterans, family members, or friends. These statements are helpful to provide additional information, filling in the gaps that service or medical records may not cover. The statements can also help attest to how a veteran was before service and how they are now. This evidence of a material fact can be crucial to a claim and a veteran’s disability compensation. Some details can be the difference between receiving the maximum benefits or not.
Today we are going to discuss how to write a convincing statement in support of your claim, as well as some tips for doing so successfully.
3 Steps For Writing Your Statement in Support of Claim
When filling out a VA form 21-4138, you will first need to provide some identification information, including:
- Full name (of the veteran/beneficiary)
- Veteran’s social security number (SSN)
- VA file number
- Date of birth
- Veteran’s service number
- Telephone number (including area code)
- Email address
- Mailing address
You can write in this fillable information by hand or type it on your computer. Remember that veterans can also ask a family member to fill it out for them. Make sure this requested information is completely correct, as it will enter the VA system of records. You can then begin writing your statement in support of claim.
When writing your statement in support of a claim, it’s important to determine the scope of the statement, determine what you want to prove, and fill in any gaps from past statements. Here, we will break down these three steps.
Step 1: Determine The Scope of The Statement
When writing a convincing statement in support of the claim, it’s important to first decide what you want the statement to accomplish and include a declaration of intent. Do you want to write about all the pending claims you have before the VA, or just one or two? Is the claim you are writing about a claim for an increased rating or a claim for service connection? Are you making a new claim for service connection in your statement? Have you written a statement on this claim before? Answering all these questions will give you a good idea of where to start.
Let’s take a look at the first question: Do you want to write about all the pending claims you have before the VA, or just one or two? Some veterans choose to write statements about all the claims they have pending before the VA, while others either write one statement per claim or even only write statements for the claims that are their highest priority. One strategy you may want to follow is to keep similar claims in the same statement.
For instance, if you have a PTSD or mental health claim and a few orthopedic or physical claims, you may want to write separate statements for the mental health and physical claims. This not only makes it easier for you to keep your thoughts organized and on track but may make it easier for the VA to focus on the specific issues you are discussing. Of course, if your physical claims are tied into your mental health claim, you may want to discuss them all together. As you can see, this depends on the particular circumstances of your case, and there is really no wrong answer.
Step 2: Add Relevant Details
You need to keep in mind whether you are writing about a claim for:
- an increased rating or;
- for service connection.
If the claim you are writing about is a claim for direct service connection, you are going to want to focus on the circumstances during service which resulted in your current disability. For instance, if you are claiming a back disability based on a fall during service, you will want to describe all the circumstances surrounding the fall, in as much detail as you remember. It may be difficult to remember the details many years later, but you may remember sounds you heard before your fall or the feeling of the ground hitting your back. You should try to describe what you remember immediately before and immediately after the fall. Do you remember what you or anyone around you said? Any details like that help your statement come to life and make it more convincing to the reader.
If you are writing about a claim for an increased rating, you are going to want to focus on how your disability has worsened over the years. Again, go into as much detail as you can, and include dates as often as you can (the month and year are good, or even the season if you are unable to remember more specifically). It is important to write about how your disability has been impacting your day to day life, as well as any secondary problems that it has caused.
For instance, say you are writing a statement for and increased rating for your right knee condition. You should go into detail about any specific instances you remember of your right knee giving out, or being swollen or too painful to bend or extend. Instead of writing “In March 2016, my knee gave out and I fell down,” a stronger, more convincing sentence would be “In March 2016, I was taking my dog for a short walk down the block and I felt my knee give way. Before I knew it I was on the ground and lying on the sidewalk. I could not stop myself from falling when my knee gave out.”
As you can see, adding a few details makes your story come to life for the reader. Also, you might discuss how due to your worsening right knee pain and instability, you have been putting more weight on your left knee. If you have now developed problems in your left knee, you may want to file a claim for that secondary condition on VA Form 526EZ.
Step 3: Fill in Gaps From Past Statements
Keep in mind whether you have written a statement on this particular claim before. If you have written a statement on this claim before, you should make sure that this new statement is filling in any gaps in that other statement. For instance, if you wrote a statement about your PTSD before that focused mostly on your interactions with friends and family, you may want to focus on a second statement on how your PTSD has impacted your employment and job performance. You want to be sure to cover all bases so that the VA has a complete picture of your disability.
As you can see, writing a convincing statement in support of a claim is a great tool to have at your disposal. It is important to go into as much detail as possible in order to make your statement come to life for the VA. Also, make sure that you are giving the VA a complete picture of your disability, including the impact your disability has on your day-to-day life, social interactions, and employment. Finally, it may be a good idea to have someone read over the statement for you before you submit it to the VA. They may be able to show you areas where you should go into more detail and help you fill in any gaps in your narrative.
Disclaimer & Privacy
It’s also important to note that the VA includes a disclaimer at the bottom of the VA form. This includes privacy act information and a respondent burden in accordance with United States codes (U.S.C)38. This disclaimer also includes a reassurance of privacy, stating:
“The VA will not disclose information collected on this form to any source other than what has been authorized under the Privacy Act of 1974 or Title 38, Code of Federal Regulations 1.576 for routine uses (i.e., civil or criminal law enforcement, congressional communications, epidemiological or research studies, the collection of money owed to the United States, litigation in which the United States is a party or has an interest, the administration of VA Programs and delivery of VA benefits, verification of identity and status, and personnel administration) as identified in the VA system of records, 58VA21/22/28, Compensation, Pension, Education, and Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Records – VA, published in the Federal Register.”
3 Tips for Making Your VA Statement in Support of Claim More Successful
Now that you know how to write your statement in support of your claim, here are some tips for making that statement as effective as possible.
Tip 1: Make Sure Each Part of The Statement Is Factual
Because these statements are considered by the VA while evaluating your claim, it is important that all statements must be true, as the penalty of perjury stands. Veteran’s can face severe penalties for including false information on the form. While we don’t believe most veterans would intentionally give false information, sometimes details surrounding an event may be hard to remember.
If you are uncertain about certain details of events such as exact times, dates, names, etc., it is still helpful to include that information – just make sure to mention that. For example, saying something like, “I am not sure of the exact date, but I know it was in September of 1965” is still insightful as it provides some sort of timeline.
Additionally, a statement cannot contradict any other statements you have made in the past. If you find that information you provided in the past was incorrect, be sure to include that in any new statements. For example, “I previously said in my statement dated March 1, 2010, that my back condition began in September 1986. I have found that information to be incorrect as my medical records show and my spouse can attest that condition began in August of 1985.”
Tip 2: File The Statement on the Proper Form
It may sound simple, but it’s essential that you fill out the right form when submitting a statement in support of a claim. The VA accepts statements on VA Form 21-4138. This can be downloaded from the VA’s website (VA.gov).
3. Add as Many Details as Possible
As mentioned above, adding as many details as possible can strengthen the statement and help you achieve your goal of obtaining appropriate disability benefits. The more details are present, the more the VA will understand the circumstances surrounding your VA benefits claim. Here’s how you can successfully include more details.
Keep in mind that statements provide a way for the veteran to be directly involved in the claims process. The VA uses C&P exam opinions and medical records to formulate most of their decisions. As these are written by doctors or other medical professionals, many veterans have no idea what these records say, and as such incorrect information may be included and used to determine a claim. Making a statement gives the veteran a voice and therefore being as detailed as possible is very important.
Referring to specific examples is often helpful. If you are talking about memory loss, include an example such as “Last week I forgot to attend a doctor’s appointment I had scheduled 6 months in advance” or similar examples. Also if an error or oversight was made in a C&P exam opinion or other records, you can correct such records by including the incident in your statement.
Additionally, it is beneficial for your statement to mention specific symptoms that your condition may cause or contribute to. Rather than saying, “I have depression,” consider talking about specifically how your condition affects you, such as: “I struggle to get out of bed in the morning.” Or “I don’t like going to public places or being in large crowds.” Think about the statement as a way to paint a picture of your daily struggles.
Lastly, statements from friends and family, commonly called “buddy statements” are incredible tools for a well-rounded case, since they provide lay evidence that can supplement medical and military records. Buddy statements can be made from family members, spouses, friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc. These are one of the most important pieces of evidence as they corroborate a veteran’s claim.
Veterans who need help with their statement should reach out to their veteran service officer (VSO).
Have Questions About Your VA statement in support of claim?
Statements are a great way for veterans to be involved in the adjudication of their VA claims. At Hill & Ponton, we will guide you step by step through the statement process in order to submit the best possible evidence for your VA disability claim. If you provide us the information, we will take care of it from there. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to someone from our VA team.
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