VA Buddy Letter: How to Write a Lay Statement
Category: Veterans Disability Law
Article by Tuley Law staff
When a veteran develops a disability or condition as a result of their military service, they may be eligible for VA disability compensation. To receive the correct amount of benefits, the veteran must report their disability as accurately and honestly as possible. One way to support the effects of a disability is to have a friend, relative, peer, or fellow service member draft a statement supporting what the veteran tells their claim adjudicator.
These buddy letters can help a veteran build a solid case even when they may be lacking certain medical records or evidence of the true effects a disability has had on their daily life.
What Is a VA Buddy Letter?
VA buddy letters—also called buddy statements, lay statements, or lay evidence—are statements made in support of a veteran’s claim for VA disability benefits. A buddy statement can be an essential part of a disability claim.
VA buddy letters not only provide insight on the veteran’s disability from those around them but also help to fill in missing pieces of information that may not be covered in service or medical records.
Lay evidence can provide clarification on how much a veteran is struggling in their daily life. Additionally, lay statements can be submitted as witness reports by individuals who may have seen an event take place. They can be used as support for establishing a service connection or to try to increase a VA disability rating.
Writing a VA Buddy Letter
There are many different ways to go about writing a VA buddy letter, but the information included must be relatively similar for all of them. In general, the structure of a buddy statement is broken down into four separate sections. Each section covers a different aspect of the case and helps to fill in the missing pieces in a disability claim.
Identification and Relationship Information
The first section is meant to set the scene for the rest of the letter. The writer will introduce themselves by providing their name, contact information, and their relationship to the veteran. You should include how frequently you see or speak with the veteran, how long you’ve known one another, how you met, and any other relevant information about your relationship. Also, introduce and state the name of the veteran you are writing the VA buddy letter for.
Descriptions of the Situation or Witnessed Events
This is the section where you explain all of the changes you witnessed in the veteran’s behavior or personality. Give a comprehensive description of how the veteran acted prior to the event or disability in question, then explain how they act now.
Mention health issues, personality traits, and other relevant information that may have been affected or changed by the presence of the disability in question. Point out any differences you’ve seen in their social or work life as a result of their newfound condition(s).
If you served with the veteran and they are also using your buddy letter to corroborate an in-service stressor, include any details about that stressor in the lay statement. This could include the unit and location to which you were both assigned or the exact happenings of the in-service event. Talk about when, where, and how it happened, and the changes that it made to the veteran’s behavior and personality.
Current Symptoms Being Experienced by the Veteran
Along with the changes caused by the disability, any knowledge you have about the current symptoms the veteran is experiencing should be included in this section. This section goes into detail about any pain or issues the veteran has experienced after the event took place.
Any opinion or insight on how the veteran’s new disability has affected their life can be crucial in creating a solid case for VA disability compensation. These observations should be as specific as possible, including the exact tasks that may have become more difficult after the onset of the disability.
Buddy Letter Certification and Signature
The most routine section, the end of the letter, is where you will put your name, date, and the phrase “I certify that the statements on this form are true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.”
If the statement is not signed, it will not even be considered by VA. The signature serves as a certification that everything on the VA buddy letter form is as accurate as possible according to the author and that they give permission to use it in the veteran’s claim.
After the buddy letter is signed, the author may submit the lay evidence with the rest of their documents to VA for review.
Submitting a VA Lay Statement
There is no singular required process for submitting a VA buddy statement. There is not one specific VA buddy letter form that must be submitted in order for VA to accept it. VA would be required to accept a handwritten letter if that’s what was properly submitted.
Regardless of how you’d like to turn in your buddy letter, there shouldn’t be any problem as long as you follow the general guidelines of what to include. That being said, there are some forms that VA has created to make it easier for the individual providing a buddy letter.
One of the forms an author can use to provide a statement is VA Form 21-4138, Statement in Support of a Claim. This form has predetermined sections for information such as the veteran’s identification, the body content of the statement, and the author’s date and signature.
As of early 2021, VA Form 21-4138 was replaced with five other forms that have more specific functions. The form that deals primarily with the buddy letter aspect is VA Form 21-10210, Lay/Witness Statement. This form is used to submit a formal statement, including lay evidence, in support of a veteran’s VA disability claim.
Veterans can include multiple buddy statements in a single claim, written by multiple people. However, the veteran should ensure that each lay statement is submitted on a separate VA Form 21-4138.
Who Needs a VA Buddy Statement?
A VA buddy letter can supplement a variety of different claim types. Any conditions affecting your physical or mental state and behaviors can benefit from the opinion of a witness. While it might not be the most essential piece of evidence when proving certain physical disabilities—as their consequences are already very apparent—it’s very useful when the symptoms of a condition are not visible at a doctor’s appointment.
For example, when proving service connection for VA disability for tinnitus, the only thing a veteran has is their word. Evidence of frequent complaints surrounding tinnitus could contribute to the veteran receiving compensation. Collecting and submitting lay evidence is part of filing a VA fully developed claim.
Who Can Write the Buddy Letter?
Any individual 18 years old or older who knows the veteran and can be considered a legitimate witness to the veteran’s condition can write a VA buddy letter. Some of the more common sources of buddy letters include the following:
- The veteran’s spouse
- A fellow service member
- A friend of the veteran
- Close or immediate relatives
- An adult child of the veteran
- A mentor, teacher, or pastor
Sometimes a veteran may have difficulty tracking down another service member who can write them a formidable buddy statement. Luckily, local veteran service organizations have resources prepared to help veterans in need find each other. If you are looking for a fellow service member to write you a buddy letter, start by reaching out to resources near you.
What Types of Buddy Letters Are There?
VA disability claims can be made for a variety of different conditions and reasons. Depending on what it is you are trying to prove in your claim, there are two main types of VA buddy letters.
Co-Worker Buddy Letters
These buddy statements come from other military personnel who served alongside you. The author should have a concrete understanding of who you are and be familiar with your service. This service member should also have witnessed the event or factors which caused your disability or worsened the effects of a pre-existing disability.
Other veterans are also capable of explaining any changes in behavior or work performance you showed after the event or injury in question. These types of buddy letters are often used when there was a change that occurred at a specific time as a result of a specific event. Individuals who actually witnessed what happened and saw how it affected you can have a serious impact on the power of your VA disability claim.
Friend or Family Member Buddy Letters
These buddy statements typically come from individuals who are not involved in military service that knew you before and after you spent time in the military. This type of letter will usually focus on the difference in personality or behavior before and after the onset of the condition. These letters are used more for cases in which the disability continues to develop or worsen over time.
A spouse, child, relative, or friend, who remembers you a certain way can certainly attest to any major changes in your personality upon return. Details about the negative impacts of a disability on your life can help you receive the VA disability compensation you are entitled to receive.
What Should Be Included in a Lay Statement?
VA buddy letters often follow the same format, however, the most important part about them is the information that is included. Some of the information that should be included as lay evidence includes the following:
- Who was involved in the accident
- A description of what and how it happened
- The location the accident occurred
- The date and time of the accident, if possible
- A comparison of the claimant’s behavior before and after the accident occurred
- Details of how the veteran was impacted by the event
- Any treatment that was required as a result of the accident
- Changes in physical or mental health as a result of the injury
Aside from the content, the general rules surrounding a buddy letter include the following:
- Contact information, identification, and signature of the author must be included to certify the evidence
- The letter should preferably be kept to one page or less
While a VA buddy letter has the potential to greatly strengthen a VA disability claim, it can also be completely useless if not done correctly. Pertinent information must be included while meeting the proper requirements for VA consideration.
VA Buddy Letter Example
Below is an example of a buddy letter for veteran John Doe written by family member Jane Doe on the topic of his service-connected PTSD. The statement is broken down into four sections for your convenience. When writing your own VA buddy letter, you would not need to include the numbering.
To Whom It May Concern:
- My name is Jane Doe, I am the brother of veteran John Doe, and am writing this letter on John Doe’s behalf. John Doe and I grew up together and although we no longer live in the same town, I still see him at least twice a month on family outings and other visits. John served in the United States Naval Forces from March 15, 2003, until June 5, 2007, including overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan.
- My brother John was a very happy-go-lucky guy who could always make anybody in the room smile. He enjoyed going to sporting events, hiking, and playing football with his friends whenever he had time. We stayed in constant communication during his time overseas, as we have always been close. Towards the beginning of his third year, in early 2005, his letters began to change dramatically. I asked him if anything had changed and he told me that he had witnessed the death of a close friend. He continued to dodge questions, so I reached out to the wife of one of his friends in the service. She explained to me that their squad had been moving bases when one of their vehicles hit a road mine. My brother was in the vehicle that exploded and although he survived, many of those surrounding him were killed upon impact by shrapnel from the explosion. When I wrote to him to confirm this, he agreed that it had happened, but would not give any further details.
- After he finished his four years of service, John returned back to the state we grew up in and moved in with our parents. He took no interest in playing football, seeing his friends, or going to sporting events. While he still took short walks on the property late at night and early in the morning, to my knowledge, he has yet to go on a hike away from home since returning from overseas. He is very commanding and rude to our parents, even though they take care of him constantly. While I thought that he was going to be a wonderful uncle to my kids when he returned, I have stopped bringing them when I visit because he seems disconnected and paranoid. Lately, he has begun drinking heavily and threatening our parents to buy him more alcohol. They informed me that they were going to call the police to kick him out of their home.
- Upon confrontation with law enforcement, John was physically detained and brought into the hospital on suspicion of severe mental illness. After weeks of working with the in-house psychiatrist, he was able to admit that he had developed post-traumatic stress disorder from the explosion that killed part of his squadron. My parents decided to continue caring for him, so long as he continues treatment.While John takes extra care to avoid additional stressors such as overstimulation, alcohol, and other triggers, he still has difficulty leaving my parents’ home and he is not even close to the same man that he used to be. He is unable to get jobs due to his limitations and cannot find joy in doing anything that used to bring him joy in the past. I believe that my brother has been forever altered by his service-connected mental illness.
I, Jane Doe, declare under penalty of perjury pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1746(2) that the above information is true and correct to the best of my knowledge.
Jane Doe Date
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