How to Use a VA Lay Statement to Win Your Disability ClaimsUpdated April 13, 2021 Veterans Disability
Putting together a detailed disability claim for Veterans Affairs can be a lot of work. To increase your chances of winning your claim the first time, it's important to include VA lay statements with your application. Here are a few people who can write lay statements for your claim.
6 People Who Can Write a VA Lay Statement
- Family Members
- Other Service Members
- The Veteran
When selecting someone to write a lay statement for your claim, choose a person that has witnessed how your disability affects you. You also want someone who can attest to the events on active duty that may have caused or aggravated the disability. You can also submit a statement yourself.
A well-written lay statement can have a significant impact on whether a claim is approved. Lay statements are also helpful during the VA disability appeal process to give more detailed information that may have been missing from the initial packet.
What Is a VA Lay Statement?
The VA lay statement is a statement that details the severity, progression, and limitations of a veteran’s disability. It can also describe the events in which the veteran incurred the disability. The person writing the statement should have sufficient personal knowledge that provides relevant details about the claim. These statements typically come from friends, family members, spouses, and fellow service members.
While the VA gives more weight to medical evidence than lay evidence, it is still a valuable part of your disability claim. A buddy statement is particularly helpful in telling the story of active duty military events. Spouse statements provide daily details not included in medical records. All of these examples of lay evidence help VA officials in the decision-making process.
How Are Lay Statements Beneficial For Your VA Claim?
When you put together your claim for veterans disability benefits, it will include several pieces of medical evidence. You will attend a C&P examination where VA doctors will evaluate you. You will also submit medical treatment records from military and civilian doctors who have treated you.
The VA also uses a disability benefits questionnaire to collect information from your doctors on your disability. All of this data gives an abundance of medical evidence for the review board.
Lay statements help support your medical evidence. Since they are written by a lay person, not a medical professional, these statements give another side of the story, describing what the veteran’s life is like with this disability. What are their daily symptoms? How have they gotten worse? What are the limitations that the veteran faces? These are all questions best answered by people who spend regular, daily time with the veteran.
Not only are lay statements important for your claims application, but they are also important during the appeals process. Suppose your request for disability compensation is denied, or you disagree with the rating level. In that case, you may submit lay statements to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (BVA) to give further information to substantiate your request.
Due to the Covid 19 pandemic, the BVA has introduced a virtual tele-hearing option that gives veterans the flexibility to attend hearings from anywhere and allow board proceedings to continue.
6 People Who Can Write a VA Lay Statement
The VA lay statement can give different perspectives on the circumstances of the disability depending on who writes it. Here are few examples of people who commonly write VA lay statements for veterans.
Spouses are perfect candidates to write lay statements since they share daily life with the veteran. They see first-hand how the disability limits a veteran’s ability to function and whether the quality of life has declined. They can also describe how symptoms have progressed over time.
For example, consider a veteran who is seeking VA disability benefits for sleep apnea. While a sleep study must be conducted and submitted as medical evidence, a spouse can provide insight into how the sleep disorder impacts the veteran’s daily life. Symptoms such as waking during the night, mood swings, fatigue, and falling asleep during the day are things a spouse would notice.
2. Family Members
Family members are a wise choice for writing lay statements when the veteran needs to illustrate changes over a long time. Family members knew the veteran before service and can attest to changes they have seen in physical and mental health since the veteran’s military service. Their testimony fills in the gaps that treatment records do not capture.
Consider a veteran who is suffering from PTSD. A lay statement from a sibling could shed light on the veteran’s behavior before service – outgoing, interested in hobbies, engaged with the family, etc. They could also share the changes they’ve noticed since the veteran’s return – withdrawn, anxious, and increased alcohol use. This type of profile information makes it easier to determine that a condition is service-connected.
Like family members, friends also have first-hand knowledge of changes in a veteran’s condition. They might share how the disability has hampered the veteran’s social life and ability to interact with friends. They can describe witnessing a physical decline in the veteran, such as suddenly missing basketball games and no longer working out at the gym. Friends' information can supplement statements made by family and spouse, along with giving them further credibility.
Coworkers also spend a large part of the day together, making them prime candidates to testify to how the veteran performs the job's physical and mental tasks. They also witness how the veteran handles stress. As long as the information they provide is first-hand knowledge and not something they have heard through office chatter, coworkers give a great deal of information regarding how the veteran functions throughout the day in light of their disability.
5. Other Service Members
Who better to tell the story of what a veteran went through on active duty than another veteran? A lay statement from another service member, commonly called a buddy statement, can help get your disability claim approved. Ask commanders, leaders, and fellow service members to account for what happened during service that led to injury or illness to help substantiate your claim. The details they provide in their statements must match your details. For example, the dates should be the same (or approximately the same), and details should be as close as possible. Otherwise, both statements could be deemed not credible.
6. The Veteran
Last but not least, veterans can submit a lay statement on behalf of themselves. The veteran’s personal statement should name dates, places, and witnesses for all pertinent events. Describe symptoms in detail. When did they start? How do symptoms keep you from functioning as you used to? What treatment did you receive? These details are essential for connecting your disability to service and determining the appropriate level of VA rating.
Tips for Writing a VA Lay Statement
There are a few tips that you can follow to improve the quality of your lay statements. First of all, choose someone who has the most knowledge of your situation. Statement writers should be able to give a first-hand account of the service conditions that led to disability or have witnessed the impact of your illness on your daily life.
Next, be as accurate as possible in your statement. Always be truthful in telling your story. Do not exaggerate details in an attempt to get your claim approved. At the same time, do not downplay the effect that your disability has on your daily life. Give specific examples that show how your life is limited, such as difficulty walking, poor concentration, or inability to complete work tasks.
Submit as many lay statements as feel is appropriate. If you have friends, family, and fellow service members who all have valuable information to add, include them all in your claim, along with a statement from yourself. Your disability claim application packet is the evidence that the VA will use to determine service connection and your disability rating. Make sure it is as detailed as possible so they can make a clear decision.
Use the VA Form 21-10210 to submit a VA lay statement. The form includes identification data and a space for the written statement. If more space is needed, continuation forms can be used. Be sure to note that there are continuation forms attached, and identify each page with your personal information. Complete a separate VA Form 21-10210 for each statement. Make sure the form is error-free, signed, and dated.
What if the VA Says Your Lay Statement is Not Credible or Not Competent?
If you get a response from the VA that states your lay statement is not credible or not competent, you have a chance to try again. Review the lay statement and look for inconsistencies or missing information. If exact dates are not known, give the best timeline you can. For example, “It happened during the summer of 2003.”
Always be as truthful, and strive for a clear and accurate statement. Do not make claims that are beyond your competence level. For example, a lay person cannot diagnose or say for sure that military service caused the disability. Only a doctor can make that type of decision. A lay person can make observations about things they witnessed, such as, “He’s no longer able to drive since his condition worsened.” or “We were both in the vehicle when it overturned.”
Understanding VA Lay Statements
If you want to increase your chances of getting your VA disability claim approved, be sure to include lay statements in your application. Choose knowledgeable people who can accurately describe your disability and events that may have caused or aggravated it. Include as many statements as are relevant to your case.
You can follow the appeals process for denied claims or unaccepted lay statements. Review your lay statements, find ways to provide more accurate detail, remove any inconsistencies, and check for grammatical errors.
It’s easy to see how the lay statement is another valuable tool you can use in the VA disability compensation claim process. While including extensive medical evidence is important for your claim, lay evidence can be equally as important. It helps to show a total picture of who you were before and after your disability occurred. These details help VA officials to connect your disability to service and determine the rating level of your VA compensation.