Wondering how to write a VA claim statement? I’ve written statements for numerous veterans. Both my husband and my father-in-law are compensated at the 100% level by the Department of Veterans Affairs, and I wrote their claim statements myself. In this post, I’ll show you everything you need to know.
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Always file a fully developed claim.
The VA does not move quickly. A traditional VA claim can take forever. If you can gather all of your evidence and paperwork before you start, you can file what is known as a “Fully Developed Claim.” These FDC claims get decided a lot faster than traditional claims because the VA doesn’t have to waste time trying to gather evidence.
However (and this is important), you have to make sure that you have everything you’ll need to support your claim before you file a Fully Developed Claim. As part of your submission process, you will have to certify that there is no more evidence needed to decide your claim.
That puts all the work on you – but it could save you a lot of waiting, and it puts a lot more power in your hands when it comes to getting your claim approved because you don’t have to rely on the VA to gather evidence.
I’ve filed a lot of FDC claims and personally, I’ll never file a claim any other way.
Your VA Claim Statement must establish service-connection and severity.
Your VA Claim Statement has two goals: to show the VA that your condition is both service-connected and compensable. You must adequately address both of these points when you’re learning how to write a VA Claim Statement.
Now, I’ll admit: I usually go overboard on this part. In my father-in-law’s claim, my letter was over 150 pages long because I pointed out every instance of every relevant symptom in his extensive medical records.
Although your letter certainly doesn’t have to be as long or detailed as mine, it is critically important that you write one.
I recommend dividing the letter into subheadings for each condition that is being claimed. In each section, I include the date of diagnosis, the reason it’s connected to military service, and a list of relevant symptoms. I reference dates and appointments in the medical record that document the symptoms, and then I clearly state how the disability should be rated according to the rating schedule that we reviewed in Step 3.
Most importantly, you want to make it clear and easy to see that the disability is service connected and that the medical documentation proves that the disability is severe enough to warrant a rating from the VA.
How to Establish Service Connection
The Nexus is the crux of every VA claim. This is where you prove that the illness or injury (also called the condition) is caused by or got worse because of your active-duty service.
For a primary condition, you will need to illustrate how the medical condition that you currently have is tied to something that happened during your active-duty service. This could be a diagnosis that you received while serving, or an event or illness or exposure that you experienced during your service. If you can demonstrate that a pre-existing conditioned worsened because of your service, that counts too.
For some conditions, including Sleep Apnea, being diagnosed during the time of service is sufficient to establish service connection. For other conditions, you may have to be more creative.
If you are claiming a secondary condition, then you have to prove that the condition you are claiming now is related to a condition that the VA has already determined to be service-connected.
In case you’re wondering how to write a VA Claim Statement with a nexus, try one of these phrases:
- “My condition, ______________, is service-connected because…”
- “I was diagnosed with _____________ while serving on active-duty…”
- “My condition, _________________, is related to an event that happened while I was serving on active duty.” After this, you will need to explain the event.
- “My new condition, _________________, is secondary to my service-connected condition, _______________.”
How to Establish the Severity of Your Condition
The second thing you have to prove is that the illness or injury is compensable by the VA and that they should compensate you for it. In my experience, it is best to use a two-part approach to convincing the VA of the severity of your condition.
Make a Rating Recommendation based on the VA Guidelines
This is one of my favorite tricks, so please pay close attention.
You can access the entire VA Ratings Schedule on the VA website. It’s called 38 CFR Book C, Schedule for Rating Disabilities. This huge document contains a list of conditions that the VA considers compensable and how they are rated based on their symptoms.
For example, let’s consider Sleep Apnea. Sleep Apnea is a potentially serious sleep disorder. Basically, people with apnea stop breathing when they sleep. To find out how sleep apnea is rated, you’ll need to visit the list for the Respiratory System.
When you open that file, it’ll show you all the respiratory conditions that the VA rates and how they are rated. When you search for Sleep Apnea, you’ll see that there are four ratings for sleep apnea. There’s a 0% rating for people who are diagnosed but asymptomatic, a 30% rating for people who are tired throughout the day, a 50% rating for those who require a CPAP machine and a 100% rating for those who have chronic respiratory failure or require a trach.
If you have this condition and require a CPAP, and you can prove that it’s connected to your military service, then it’s an easy win.
You can do this for every condition that you have been diagnosed with.
On more complicated conditions, like hypothyroidism, you’ll be able to see what symptoms equal what rating with the VA. If you know the list of symptoms that they are looking for with your diagnosis, then you know what to look for in your medical record. This can help you prove your case much easier – and help you earn a more favorable rating.
There’s also a fun VA rule called “Higher of Two Evaluations” ( §4.7 ). This policy states that “where there is a question as to which of two evaluations shall be applied, the higher evaluation will be assigned if the disability picture more nearly approximates the criteria required for that rating.”
VA disability raters are busy people. They have a big workload and a lot of responsibility. They don’t have time to comb through everything when they’re trying to make their decisions. If you make this information easy for them to find and understand, it’s easier for them to approve your claim.
In case you’re wondering how to write a VA Claim Statement with a rating recommendation, try one of these phrases:
- “My condition should be rated as ____ according to 38 CFR Book C, Schedule for Rating Disabilities. This is because my condition causes _________________.” List all the applicable symptoms in that space.
- “I believe I am entitled to a ___% rating based on the 38 CFR Book C, Schedule for Rating Disabilities. This is because my symptoms more nearly approximates the criteria required for that rating.”
Clearly Explain How Your Condition Limits Your ADLs
The VA uses the terms ADLS and IADLS when evaluating the impact of medical conditions. ADLs refers to the “Activities of Daily Living,” and generally includes basic self-care tasks like bathing, eating and toileting. IADLs are the “Instrumental Activities of Daily Living.” These include things that require more complex planning and thinking, such as shopping for groceries, cooking, managing medication, housekeeping and transportation.
After you explain your symptoms and how they align with a specific VA rating, then you should summarize how those symptoms impact your ability to live, work and play. Focus on how they impact your ADLs and IADLs, if applicable.
This strengthens your case, since the VA bases their disability ratings on how your conditions impact your ability to earn money. According to the policy “Essentials of Evaluating Rating” (§4.1), “The percentage ratings represent as far as can practicably be determined the average impairment in earning capacity resulting from such diseases and injuries and their residual conditions in civil occupations.”
Gather evidence to strengthen your VA Claim Statement.
Without evidence, your VA Claim Statement basically just asks the VA to take your word for it. While they are required to take this into consideration, I’ve found that statements are much more impactful if they also contain and cite evidence from other sources.
Cite Your Medical Records
Once you look up your conditions in the Rating Schedule, you’ll know what symptoms to watch for. Look through your medical records for references to all of the symptoms listed in the Schedule.
You can download your VA medical records online, so be sure to look through them. You should also look at records from outside providers, if you have any. Search for the symptoms that you found in Book C so that you can prove the severity of your conditions.
In my letters, I have found it helpful to note the date of any appointments that reference each of the symptoms. You can simply include a list of dates for each symptom, so the VA Ratings Examiner knows where to look. When I find a particularly helpful quote from a provider, I include those in my letters as well.
While you’re reviewing your records, make sure they are accurate. The VA made several mistakes in both my husband and father-in-laws records, which could have been detrimental to our claim. Fortunately, those mistakes were very obvious because they were inconsistent with the rest of the record.
Gather Supporting Statements from Others
Statements from others can help your case immensely. Whenever possible, get a letter from your doctors and providers. Many of them will refuse to provide a letter, in my experience… but you should still get whatever letters you can!
You can gather statements from current or former employers, coworkers, professors, caseworkers, caregivers, friends and family members. People who know you in the community, such as Church leaders, food bank volunteers, transit drivers and others can also bolster your case if they can attest to any part of your disability.
Strengthen Your Case by Citing Prior VA Decisions
This is another one of my favorite tricks. One of the reasons my letters are so long is because I also look up past VA decisions and include precedent from the VA Board of Appeals. I’ve found some real gold in there that makes it very hard for the VA to deny my claims. I just used Google searches to find the relevant decisions.
You obviously don’t have to go that far if you don’t want to… but you should at least review your prior VA decisions if you have any. When the VA makes a decision on a claim, they are required to justify that decision. Knowing why they declined or approved certain conditions can help you counter their arguments before they deny the claim you’re currently developing.
Here’s the VA Claim Statement Checklist.
When you’re preparing your statement, make sure that you include:
- Nexus (Service Connection)
- Severity (Rating Recommendation and impact on your daily life)
- Medical Records
- Supporting Statements
- Prior VA Decisions (optional)