Veterans seeking disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs stand the best chance for approval of a claim when they offer thorough documentation and evidence to support their type and level of disability.
Medical records only tell part of the story. To strengthen a claim and prove that their disability is connected to their military service, Veterans often submit buddy letters, also known as buddy statements, to give a complete accounting of their case.
It’s critical to know when and how to use a buddy letter, how they should be written, and by whom if you’re gathering information for a claim. Here’s what you should know.
What is a VA Buddy Letter?
Buddy letters provide the VA with firsthand details about an individual’s disability and how it has impacted their life. Depending on who writes the letter, the letter may also provide information on the incident that caused the disability, or what family member or friend observes on how the disability has adversely affected their personal life, or from an employer who can offer details on how the disability has impacted their ability to earn a living. As the name implies, buddy letters are written by those closest to the Veteran.
Buddy letters can help fill in blanks in medical records or help corroborate a Veteran’s claim. They also bring a first-person narrative to the claim and can be a strong documentation when effectively written.
The Importance of Buddy Letters in Developing a VA Claim
Buddy letters are credible statements made in support of a claim for VA disability benefits and are valuable pieces of documentation because they can fill in gaps that are otherwise mission from a Veteran’s service or treatment records. They may also serve as a witness statement for the event, injury, or illness that can be used to corroborate other parts of a claim.
Buddy letters are often first-person accounts that better illustrate the Veteran’s current situation and how their disabilities impact their daily life. They are often treated as evidence in the same way that medical records are treated as evidence, so it’s important not to underestimate their value when developing a claim. As long as a qualified and competent person submits the buddy statement, it becomes evidence that the VA is required to consider when adjudicating the Veteran’s claim.
Who Needs a VA Buddy Letter?
Most Veterans will benefit from submitting a buddy letter when it helps strengthen their claim. Sometimes, a buddy letter isn’t necessary, but there are specific cases when it provides much-needed added value
Combat-related claims are one such instance. In many cases, combat situations don’t provide a reasonable set of circumstances or time to see a corpsman or medic to get the medical evidence needed to document an in-service event. In other instances, an injury or event won’t require immediate medical treatment but could eventually become a ratable disability. This can be offset by a buddy letter from a fellow service member who witnessed firsthand the triggering incident.
Lost medical records are also another challenge that a buddy letter can address. If records aren’t available anymore, a buddy letter can add credible documentation to plug gaps in treatment dates and courses of care. If a Veteran suffered an injury or event in service that went unrecorded, or related records were destroyed, a statement from someone who served with you and witnessed the event or injury must be weighed and considered by the VA when determining a service connection.
Buddy letters also add a historical narrative supporting a Veteran’s claim. People who knew you before your service-connected disability can provide important perspective on how you have changed. That’s especially important for mental health-related claims such as PTSD, depression, or anxiety, where documenting a behavior change is vital.
Who Can Write a VA Buddy Letter?
A buddy statement can be created by anyone that knows the Veteran, is at least 18 years old, and can serve as a dependable witness to their conditions. That often includes:
- Fellow service members
Veterans can also write their own buddy statements. Also, multiple statements can be written and submitted as part of a disability claim.
How to Write a VA Buddy Letter
To create a VA buddy letter, an individual who has firsthand knowledge of the Veterans disability, injury, or experience in service needs to create a credible statement that supports the Veteran’s claim and offers an explanation of what they saw or continue to see.
The letter’s content will depend on the Veteran’s specific claim and what they are trying to prove to VA. It should be concise, accurate, and not an attempt to over-inflate symptoms or conditions.
If the statement is going to be more focused on the symptoms of a Veteran’s condition and has and their impact on the Veteran’s daily life, it may include information regarding how the Veteran’s condition affects them, what the person writing the statement witnesses, how the Veteran has changed since service, and any other relevant details.
Tips for Writing an Effective Buddy Letter
Buddy letters are generally divided into four parts.
Buddy letters should include the name of the person writing the statement, their contact information, and their relationship to the Veteran. If the person author served with the Veteran, and they are corroborating an in-service stressor, details should include the unit and location assigned.
If the statement is regarding an in-service stressor, it should describe when and where the stressor took place. If the statement is describing the veteran’s current symptoms, those symptoms should be explained thoroughly, and the symptoms are ongoing. People writing letters must not lie or exaggerate on this part and must only include details they have experienced firsthand. Be concise when drafting a letter because too much irrelevant information confuses and dilutes the evidence being provided.
If the person writing the statement knows about the veteran’s conditions or symptoms, they should also be included. Caregivers, family members, and others should detail how the Veteran’s disability has impacted their ability to perform work and daily living tasks, as well as any other information that supports how the Veteran’s life has changed. Additionally, a statement can be considered reliable if it is consistent with other records. A providing a statement may want to be sure their account of an incident or behavior reflects the records that exist regarding the situation.
Signature and Certification
All buddy statements must be signed and dated. This means the person signing the statement acknowledges that the buddy letter is correct to the best of their knowledge. Many buddy statements also include a declaration attesting that you are telling the truth.
VA Buddy Letter Example
Each VA buddy statement differs depending on the circumstances and the Veteran’s needs, but the structures are similar in most cases. To give you an idea of what to expect, here’s a typical framework of a letter.
To whom it may concern,
My name is John Doe, and I am the brother of Veteran [Insert Veteran’s Name]. I am writing this statement on behalf of [Insert Veteran’s Name].
I have known [Insert Veteran’s Name] for his entire life, and we currently live in the same town. I spend time with [Insert Veteran’s Name] three to four times per week.
Prior to [Insert Veteran’s Name]’s deployment to Afghanistan, he was a happy, kind, and energetic person. He did not show signs of anger, irritability, or anxiety before his time in the service.
Following [Insert Veteran’s Name]’s discharge from active duty in Afghanistan, I noticed a significant change in his behavior. [Insert Veteran’s Name] displayed angry outbursts several times per week. He has trouble sleeping and speaks to me regularly about his panic attacks. [Insert Veteran’s Name] has also spoken to me about his mental health issues, including flashbacks to his time in active duty service. These symptoms have affected [Insert Veteran’s Name]’s ability to hold a job, spend time with his family, and enjoy daily life.
[Insert Veteran’s Name]’s PTSD symptoms have persisted, and he still experiences symptoms today. I believe that his post-traumatic stress disorder resulted from the mental stress of combat and active duty.
[Signature or name]
I certify that the statements on this form are true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.
When & How to Submit a Buddy Letter to the VA
Our consulting partners guide Veterans through this part of the process to ensure the best quality overall disability claim submission. That ensures the best possibility for approval the first time through at the highest overall rating.
The VA does not require any specific form or format to submit a buddy letter or statement, which should be included with an initial claim submission. Technically, a person could draft a computer-generated document or write a handwritten letter, and the VA would be required to accept it.
However, VA does have forms that an individual who is providing a buddy letter can use, including VA Form 21-4138, Statement in Support of a Claim. The form includes sections for the Veteran’s identification information, the statement itself, and a declaration of intent where the person providing the statement will sign and date the form.
Veteran Ratings requires Veterans to submit Form 21-4138 when they are filing for the first time.
Because each claim differs, it’s best to discuss the optimal way to draft and submit a buddy letter as part of the guidance you receive from Veteran Ratings and our consulting partners.
FAQs About VA Buddy Letters
Does the VA check buddy letters?
The VA deems buddy letters as credible and important evidence to support a Veteran’s claim. VA officials will ensure the buddy letter is consistent with other submitted documentation. Veteran Ratings and our consulting partners help Veterans check for consistency and credibility, so this should not be an issue when working with us.
Can you write your own buddy letter?
Yes. Veteran Ratings can guide how to structure and execute an effective buddy letter for a Veteran regarding their own claim.
Do buddy statements have to be notarized?
If a buddy statement is not submitted on the VA 4138 form, then the statement must be notarized to document that the submitter is attesting that what they have written is the truth.
Can multiple buddy letters be submitted for a single claim?
Multiple people can submit multiple statements, but each should be submitted as a separate form or letter.