When a veteran files a disability claim with the U. S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), having a Lay Witness Statement, Statement in Support of Claim, or “buddy letter,” can provide additional information that can help in getting their claim approved. A buddy letter can provide evidence of where the event or injury that caused a disability occurred, when it happened, and other details about the event and its impact on the veteran filing the claim.
Who needs a buddy letter?
Veterans who are filing a VA disability claim, but missing necessary information such as medical records, may benefit from having someone they know write a buddy letter to support their claim. Buddy letters can also be beneficial in cases where medical records are available, but more evidence is needed on how an injury or event has led to changes in a veteran’s behavior, work performance, or relationships with others. A buddy letter can be important to the claims process because a supportive and credible statement can help ensure that the VA disability claim gets approved.
It is possible that an event or injury that occurs during combat may never be recorded by a veteran’s military unit. For veterans who have experienced such an event or injury, it may be difficult to file a disability claim for conditions related to the event. In these situations, having a buddy letter from a fellow service member who either experienced the event as well, or witnessed the veteran’s involvement in the event or injury can be helpful in ensuring a claim is approved by the VA.
Who should write a letter?
A buddy letter can be from anyone that knows the veteran and who can serve as a credible witness to the veteran’s condition; the only requirement is that the individual is 18 years old or older. These individuals may include:
- A spouse
- A fellow service member
- A pastor
- A friend
- An adult child
Some veterans may not be able to identify or contact a fellow service member to provide a buddy letter. For these veterans, local veterans service organizations or VA claim agents can provide resources and suggestions for finding other veterans who are willing to write a buddy letter.
A buddy letter can also be useful in scenarios where an event or injury occurred, but a veteran did not seek medical care right away. For these situations, a credible statement of support from a fellow service member who served with the veteran and witnessed the event can be key in getting a claim approved by the VA. When reviewing a claim, the VA usually gives patients the benefit of the doubt if their claim does not have sufficient medical evidence; however, in this instance, a buddy statement can still be useful to provide additional support for a claim.
There are two main types of buddy letters:
- From co-workers: a letter from a fellow service member who served alongside the veteran can help establish when and where a service-connected disability occurred, as well as specific details about the event. A co-worker buddy letter should come from an individual who is familiar with the veteran’s service, and who witnessed the event that caused or worsened the disability. Fellow service members can also outline any behavioral issues or changes in work performance that the veteran experienced as a result of the event or injury
- From a friend or family member: these letters should focus on how the veteran’s disability has impacted their personal life and relationships with family and friends. The letter can include details on the veteran’s personality traits before their injury, compared to after their injury occurred. The letter should also explain any changes in behavior, whether or not the disability has had negative impacts on relationships, and how it has impacted the veteran’s daily life
What should a buddy letter include?
A buddy letter may cover how the physical and/or mental impacts of an injury are impacting the life of a veteran, or may provide details on a specific event or injury that led to a disability. Once an individual has been identified to develop a statement, it is important that the veteran submitting a claim provide information about their disability and their VA claim application, so that the writer understands the specific event or injury and can discuss it in their statement. The statement should include:
- Who was involved in the injury or incident
- A detailed description of what happened
- Where the injury or incident occurred
- The specific date of the injury or incident
- A description of the claimant’s behavior and abilities before and after the injury or incident occurred
A buddy letter should include as much detail as possible, and may include the following:
- How the service member was impacted by the event
- Any changes in physical health or behavior as a result of the event
- The type of treatment required due to the event or injury
When writing a buddy letter, these guidelines should be followed as much as possible:
- Try to keep the letter one page in length or shorter
- Anyone who writes a buddy letter should include their contact information, their name and signature, the full name of the veteran that the letter is for, and the date
- The author can use VA form 21-4138 but it is not required. If the form is not used, the author should include this statement at the end of the letter: “I certify that my statements are true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.”
Steps for Writing a Buddy Letter
Ultimately, a buddy letter from a friend of a veteran should be broken down into four main sections:
- How do you know the veteran? This section should explain the relationship between the veteran and the writer; state your name, how long you have known the veteran, how frequently you interact with the veteran, and how you know each other. State the name of the veteran who you are writing the letter for.
- What did you witness, or what are you witnessing in regard to the event? Explain in as much detail as possible how the veteran acted before the event, whether or not they had any health issues, and any personality traits. Explain how the veteran changed as a result of the event, including their health, personality, behavior, work performance, and relationships.
- What are the veteran’s current symptoms of their disability? Explain, in as much detail as possible, the current symptoms that the veteran is experiencing as a result of their disability. It is not necessary to explain everything, just anything that you know about. If there are certain things that a veteran can no longer do as a result of their disability, mention those as well.
- Sign and date the letter. Include your name and the date, and the statement “I certify that the statements on this form are true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.
- Once the letter is completed, the author can give the letter to the veteran so that they can upload it along with the rest of the documentation for their claim.
A buddy letter may cover how the physical and/or mental impacts of an injury are impacting the life of a veteran, or may provide details on a specific event or injury that led to a disability. It is important to share this information with the VA, because injuries that happen while a service member is on active duty can potentially have an impact on their health, ability to function, and relationships long after their service has ended.