Lay Statements: Facts

This is one of those topics that we could speak to for hours…. literally. They are the most important documents you can submit with your disability. Why? Because they can say so many things and they are evidence in your claim! VA must read them.

This means that you can include anything that is relevant to your contentions and VA will be required to read it. Recently I was asked whether the Veteran should include an index to relevant items in his service treatment records in his personal statement or provide copies of the pages. The answer is: it depends, but both are very powerful. An index is a wonderful way of doing it, but you have to make sure that the index matches the file the VA is looking at. Frequently service treatment records (STRs) or other medical records are broken down into multiple files, and many are duplicative, at least in part. This can create a mess when a rater is trying to find the page you are referring to. If you provide a copy of the master document, then it makes more sense.

However, that goes to the second part of the question, should you just provide the relevant pages as exhibits? This is generally our preference because it is an accepted legal standard, however VAs software doesn’t take into account legal standards as well as we would like. So when evidence is attached to a personal statement, it needs to be identified or raters will never see it. VAs software needs evidence to be tagged for the rater to be aware of it. For this reason, it makes sense to provide a statement in the introduction followed by a table of contents that identifies all content and exhibits. The statement should succinctly state “evidence exhibits are included with this personal statement, please tag them in vbms as evidence. See table of contents for each exhibit,” or something similar. Bold it. Underline it.

If you use that technique, then only provide the document pages that the rater needs to see to make a decision. They don’t need a 300 page file when 5 pages will do. I am a fan of highlighting the pages as well. We highlight the date, name, and relevant evidence on the page. We also apply an evidence tag to the bottom of the page, eg. “Exhibit A - MRI impression, cervical, {date}.”

We like providing an introduction that is 1-2 pages that succinctly says everything contained in the rest of the document. It opens with the statement about tagging of contained evidence, and goes on to say who you are and why you’re credible. We make one personal statement per group of contentions, so all musculoskeletal go in one statement. We title it as such.

Then we provide a table of contents, we use 38 USC 1154 as our template:

1. Places served (Commands, deployments)
2. Types of duty (MOS, duties)
3. Circumstances (tasks, events, etc. that are specific to your service while doing your duties at each command, and are relevant to this statement)

This should contain facts, with no supposition of etiology. Let your records and physician’s opinions speak an etiology based on the facts you provide.

Lastly, attest to the statement.

This document may end up being 15 pages or 85 depending on the evidence attachments. Try to keep the narrative succinct and the evidence relevant. Use it to prove continuity and chronicity. For example, if you had sinus infections, add several pages from different dates showing the diagnosis. You need to show that the condition wasn’t a one-time transitory event, but you don’t need to provide all 84 occurrences either.

You can add logs of symptoms for each contention, references to peer-reviewed medical studies, command logs, photos, and any other piece of information that is relevant.

Use your statement to tell your story. Make it easy for the rater to find exactly what they need to do their job.

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