Family members and caregivers play a vital role in supporting their service member, and that support and care continues once a service member reaches Veteran status. While many think this only involves physical/mental care and support, family members and caregivers can also assist their Veterans through the claims and appeals processes by providing invaluable evidence and insight.
(Primer: What is VA compensation? Who is eligible? To receive monthly compensation for a disability or illness caused by or incurred during active service, a Veteran submits a “claim” with their evidence to VA. If a Veteran disagrees with the decision VA makes on the claim, the Veteran has the option to “appeal” the decision to the Board of Veterans’ Appeals. In both processes, the evidence requirements are the same.)
Family members and caregivers have a front row seat to see how service-connected disabilities impact not only the Veteran’s life, but the lives of those around them. Maybe you received letters from the Veteran while they were on active duty that described some of the experiences they were having. Maybe you saw their behavior change as a result of what they experienced. Don’t discount your interactions or memories – they may be beneficial as evidence if your Veteran appeals a claim decision.
Your recollections can provide significant information to the Veterans Law Judges (VLJs) at the Board of Veterans’ Appeals (Board) to help them better understand what the Veteran has gone through, and how what they are experiencing is affecting their everyday life. This type of evidence may be submitted through a statement of support or recollection, and is known as “lay evidence.”
If your Veteran disagrees with the decision VA made on a claim, and wishes to submit an appeal, you can assist your Veteran by including these lay statements when submitting the appeal.
Remember, you don’t have to be a doctor or healthcare professional to submit a statement in support of a Veteran. Lay evidence is very important for VLJs to fully understand how a Veteran is experiencing daily life, and family members and caregivers can often talk about the changes and impacts easier than the Veteran can. The Board recommends reaching out to your Veteran’s representative to ask about submitting lay evidence in support of your Veteran’s appeal.
Cheryl Mason is the Chairman of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals.