VA lay statements are undervalued and underutilized by Veterans. A VA lay statement is your chance to tell your story in your own words. And though objective medical evidence is a huge part of any disability claim, the importance of subjective evidence stating your experience from your own point of view cannot be underestimated.
This article will explain more about lay statements and how they can be written. We will provide an example of the information that may be needed to support the rating that your condition warrants.
Many Veterans believe that relying on a C&P examination to document a disability is sufficient when filing a disability claim with the VA. Unfortunately, you need to be much more proactive in assembling medical evidence on your own.
The reality is that the C&P examiner at the VA may have approximately 10 minutes allotted for your visit. This includes examining you to evaluate your disability and document the severity of your symptoms by filling out a 12-page disability benefits questionnaire. 10 minutes is an extremely limited period of time to accomplish all of those objectives properly. The doctor may not have adequate time to ask you all the relevant questions relating to your discomfort. The doctor is only glimpsing how this disability affects you at a brief point in time, so the full impact of your condition may not be understood. The examiner does not follow you around to see how this disability affects your life. He or she may not be seeing you on your worst day.
A lay statement in support of a claim should be documented on VA Form 21-4138. You should tell the story of your disability chronologically. You can use bullet points. Describe your symptoms when you first experienced them, your diagnosis, when you were diagnosed, and any treatment prescribed by a provider. Include over-the-counter medication you have used for symptoms and how often you use them. Explain in detail how this injury or illness affects your daily life and how it causes a loss of function for you. If you are no longer able to participate in activities you typically take part in, you need to document that.
The following 7 items will help you properly create a lay statement. Remember to be concise. You don’t want to submit a 40-page journal entry. It’s important to effectively tell your story and to make sure to cross every t and dot every i.
1. Identify the claim type
What you choose to include in your lay statement will depend on the type of claim you are filing.
If you are submitting a new claim for a condition directly related to an injury or disease that occurred in service, you must connect some dots for the VA. They need to understand how the disease is service-connected.
It helps to tell your story chronologically. Start with when and how your condition began in service. It may have started with an injury, repetitive overuse, overcompensating for a minor injury, or a stressful or traumatic event. If you complained of the problem while in the military, explain when you first reported it and what treatment you were given.
If you saw a doctor multiple times, describe all treatments, medications, or therapies you received. Try to be specific about each visit. If you were placed on any profile or excused from regular training, be sure to mention this.
2. Explain what has happened since your separation
What have your symptoms been like since you’ve gotten out of service? If you have sought medical care, describe each experience. If you have not been treated, but continue to experience symptoms, describe your symptoms currently. You can also describe your pain level and how you manage the symptoms on your own. If your daily life or activities are affected, describe how your life has changed. What are the new limitations or adverse effects because of the ailment? Describe any activities or tasks that you can no longer perform because of this medical condition.
3. Fill in all the gaps in your story
If there is any missing information, you’ll want to be sure to include it. If there are long gaps in your medical record, it’s helpful to provide an explanation. For example, if you could not afford to see a doctor, didn’t have insurance, or were otherwise unable to be seen, describe it in your statement. If you simply treated yourself and managed your symptoms, you will want to include that as well.
This can be vital information in explaining how your health was affected. For instance, if you didn’t want to complain, it can be helpful to include that. And if you didn’t find any of the recommended treatments to be effective, be sure to include that to showcase the treatment’s lack of effectiveness.
These types of details are essential for the committee reviewing your statement to understand your health information and approach to medical care in your own words.
4. Connect the dots
A total stranger must read your lay statement and get a full understanding of the disability, its service-connection, and its negative effects on your life. That’s a lot. This is why you need to elaborate and fully paint a picture of your condition and lifestyle after developing this condition. If your medical record does not reflect your problem’s chronic symptoms since active duty, the VA may determine that you did not develop a chronic condition warranting service-connection.
Your Lay Statement is your opportunity to connect the dots and should include:
- Initial symptoms and treatments
- Evidence of continuation
- Proof of recurrence
- Current symptoms and diagnosis.
It may help to line up the pieces of evidence chronologically. If there are gaps in your medical record, try to add statements of your symptoms or treatments that occurred during that time.
5. A Lay Statement in support of a secondary claim will be very different
Your claim type is important because it dictates how you write your lay statement. For a secondary claim, you should include the primary service-connected disability and how it has led to a new secondary condition. It’s important to describe your symptoms of both the first and second condition. Focusing on what connects the two can help paint the picture. Also, make sure you list any medications or treatments, including home remedies or over the counter medications you have used for the secondary condition.
Your statement should express the timing and development of your new condition. This can be powerful evidence towards the Nexus or link between the two conditions.
6. A lay statement in support of a claim for increase should focus on new symptoms
An increase statement does not need to show a Nexus between two conditions. Your condition’s connection to your service has already been established. In this statement, try focusing on your current symptoms and how they are worse than before. If you have been prescribed new treatments or medicines to manage increasing symptoms, be sure to include a complete list. Any home remedies or self-care measures you have taken are just as important to mention. They can be as impactful to your claim as treatments prescribed by a doctor. These are efforts and measures you’ve taken to manage your condition and they can have an effect on your health and the condition.
Recent imaging studies are not as helpful since worsening disease on imaging does not always result in increased symptoms and severity. You are rated on your symptoms, not the severity of the disease or its progress shown on medical studies.
7. Refer to the 38CFR again
It is important to review the rating schedule for your condition again. Include any symptoms or frequencies of symptoms you experience. These determine your rating. Since symptoms and their frequency are not always recorded during visits to your doctor, it is important to officially document your current disability picture. Be sure to record any temporary symptoms or symptoms that occur during a flare-up.
Remember, your rating should reflect your disability at its worst.
To give you an example of how a lay statement can be a key component in your VA claim, consider GERD – Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease. Many Veterans suffer from this, and many Veterans are rated and service-connected for GERD. But most Veterans that we see at Vet Comp & Pen who are service-connected for GERD are underrated. The reason for this is simply because not all of their symptoms have been noted in the C&P exam. Additionally, the severity of their symptoms is not captured during that short visit. They might have trouble lying down because of reflux, or they can’t eat certain things, they have pain in their chest and their arm, they burp up gastric juices that cause a sour taste in their mouth. All of these things are very frequently not documented in a C&P examination, but they directly drive the rating. These are exactly the kinds of subjective statements you need to flesh out a disability claim.
Here at Vet Comp & Pen, we have seen too many cases of Veterans filing on their own without consulting a professional, and then receiving a lower rating than they qualify for because they did not create a lay statement – or they did so improperly.
Call us today for a free consultation. Whether it’s a new claim that you’re making or a request for an increase for a current service-connected condition, we will help you develop evidence to win VA disability claims for benefits you medically, legally and ethically qualify for.