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VA claims generally start with a statement from the veteran. The VA then examines all of the additional evidence to make a determination on that veteran’s claim. Typically, that evidence includes medical and service records. Unfortunately, those can be woefully incomplete.
That’s when additional evidence can fill in some very important blanks. The VA would call one type of additional evidence a “Statement in Support of Claim.” These are commonly referred to as “Buddy Letters” or “Buddy Statements.” There are various kinds of Buddy Letters. The best ones are those written by fellow service members who actually witnessed what you went through. The closer they were to you, the more compelling Buddy Letters will be to the VA.
For example, suppose you were an 11B Infantryman making a claim of PTSD today. An effective Buddy Letter might come from your platoon sergeant. That would be a person who saw you from the time you arrived in theater to the time you left. In the Buddy Letter, the service member could recount the actual missions or campaigns in which you were involved, provide first-hand observations of what you experienced and witnessed, and comment on any changes he observed in you over that time.
Though less effective, a Buddy Letter could be from another service member who served in the same theatre but didn’t actually serve alongside you. The service member might be able to recount general information about the circumstances of your service. Unfortunately, the specifics of what you experienced and how it might have affected you would be missing. A letter like this wouldn’t necessarily hurt your claim, but it might do little to support it.
Buddy Letters can be helpful in proving that you served in combat—especially if you didn’t have a combat MOS or if your official service record doesn’t specifically list it. Unfortunately, the VA applies a very limited definition of “combat” requiring “[e]vidence that the veteran participated in attacking or defending an attack of the enemy.” That means that service in a general “combat area” or “combat zone” is not enough to prove that a veteran served in combat. Buddy Letters, in conjunction with other evidence, can support your claim that you served in combat.
Another way Buddy Letters can have a positive impact is in cases where injuries during service aren’t always apparent. A series of small strains and sprains can lead to a much bigger problem later in life. If those smaller injuries didn’t warrant going on sick call or reporting to sick bay, there may not be a record of them. Buddy Letters from your co-workers can discuss how you hurt your back lifting equipment day in and day out. Or, how your job required typing all day leading to a current condition of carpal tunnel syndrome. Or, how you worked around toxic fumes all day leading to respiratory issues.
The best Buddy Letters will always come from those who were closest to you at the time of your injury—whether it was a single event or on-going trauma. The closer to you the letter writer was, the more impact the letter will have. So, it should come from someone in your company, rather than someone in your battalion. Better yet, it should come from someone in your platoon, rather than someone in your company. Better still, it should come from someone in your squad, rather than in your platoon. The key is that they can state what they directly witnessed of your service experience and the basis for your claim.
We at the Law Offices of Maurice L. Abarr are uniquely qualified to assist you with any issues related to disabilities caused by your military service. Contact us for a free case evaluation.