Many Veterans who suffer significant trauma or disability are denied benefits because their service records don’t accurately reflect their time in the military. In these cases, a VA Disability attorney can help you by requesting a records correction or adding lay evidence to give the VA a complete picture of your disability.
What if There’s an Error in My Military Service Records?
Corrections to military records can be done by applying to your service branch’s Discharge Review Board (DRB) or Board of Correction for Military Records (BCMR) using DD Form 149. If more than 15 years have passed since you were discharged, the Discharge Review Board will not hear your case, and you must apply to your BCMR.
BCMRs do not have the authority to overturn a general courts-martial conviction. However, they can alter your records to:
- Upgrade a general courts-martial discharge
- Review a decision made by the Discharge Review Board
- Change reenlistment codes
- Change the character of your military discharge (such as from military retirement to medical discharge)
- Reinstate a Veteran into the military
- Make other relevant changes to military records
What if My Service Records Alone Don’t Support a VA Disability Claim?
Even if the information in your military record is factually correct, it may be incomplete or lack specific details related to your disability. The VA allows claimants to submit lay evidence—also called buddy statements or lay statements—from someone familiar with the Veteran’s situation who can provide necessary insight on the Veteran’s Disability claim.
Lay statements can be beneficial by:
- Summarizing information missing from treatment records or service records
- Detailing the in-service event or conditions that caused the Veteran’s injury or illness
- Describing the Veteran’s current medical treatment and its effects
- Itemizing the severity of the Veteran’s symptoms and their progression over time
Who Should Write a Lay Statement?
Anyone who wants to support a Veteran’s disability claim or appeal for an increased rating may submit VA Form 21-10210 to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Multiple people can offer lay evidence on a single benefit claim, but each must fill out a separate VA Form 21-10210.
Lay statements may be submitted by anyone with personal knowledge of the events and details described in the Veteran’s claim, such as:
- The Veteran applicant. Veterans may want to submit a personal statement detailing their experiences and the progression of their condition during and after service.
- The Veteran's spouse. A spouse is particularly well-suited to submit lay evidence as the person closest to the Veteran. Spouses can offer insight into the daily struggles of disability that the Veteran may not have considered.
- Other members of the Veteran’s unit. Fellow service members are invaluable witnesses to an in-service event that may have been only partially included in official documents. Other Veterans might also have similar diagnoses to the applicant and offer personal observations on the applicant’s condition.
- The Veteran’s boss or coworker. If the applicant was forced to stop working due to their service-related condition, their former employer’s lay statement could help establish a claim for Total Disability based on Individual Unemployability (TDIU).
When Is Lay Evidence Most Effective?
We strongly recommend that you speak to an attorney with experience helping Veterans compose and submit lay statements. Under the right circumstances, lay evidence can overturn denied disability claims, reinstate benefits, and increase a Veteran’s disability rating.
Lay evidence has the most weight in a claim when it is:
- Credible. Credibility is the trustworthiness of the person making the statement. Anyone who offers lay evidence on your behalf must have relevant information and be seen as a reliable source. For example, a coworker with a history of making false insurance claims may not be the best person to make a supporting statement.
- Competent. Statements will only be considered if people make them with relevant knowledge, education, or experience regarding their claims. Veterans may include details explaining why a layperson should be regarded as competent, such as the length of time they have known the Veteran or the number of years the Veteran has worked at their job.
- Consistent. All statements should be consistent with the claimant’s version of events and description of medical limitations. Inconsistencies in a person’s account of events might require further clarification or lead to outright denial.
Let Us Advise You on Your VA Disability Benefits at No Cost to You
Sean Kendall, Attorney-at-Law, helps Veterans nationwide get the compensation they deserve for their service-connected disabilities. Call 877-629-1712 to set up a free, no-obligation consultation or learn more about the disability claims process in our free guide, VA Benefits Handbook.