From the time you stepped out of the service, all you carried behind you, aside from badges and honors, were fond memories spent inside the armed forces. These memories genuinely make a veteran’s stay in the service worth reminiscing. But several years later, these memories can turn into robust evidence that would lead you to boost your benefits – and that’s the time you need to call your long-time buddy.

Veterans applying for disability benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs in the US must provide evidence that their injury or sickness is related to their time served in the armed forces. Buddy statements are a significant piece of documentation that can be acquired by veterans battling for service connection or a higher rating. Buddy statements, also known as buddy letters, are documents that can provide first-hand information on the occurrence that led to the disability, including the nature of the condition itself. When applying for VA disability benefits, a veteran may find that a strong statement from a buddy is essential. 

Senior Chief Weiller of Coast Guard Activities New York and Kashim Valles, 10, of P.S. 86 in Queens, visit with U.S. Army Veteran Holybrokh Murdaugh at the 23rd Street Veterans Medical Center. (Source: Petty Officer 1st Class Thomas Sperduto, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

What Should a ‘Buddy Statement’ Focus On?

For buddy statements to be powerful, they need to concentrate on particular areas. If your buddy statement is strong, there is a greater chance that you will earn the rating you require. The real substance of the statement should center on the matter that the veteran is attempting to establish, whether that be the occurrence that caused the veteran’s condition, the presence of the impairment, or the degree of the disability, among others. This calls for every veteran to be clear on the statement’s goal – one of the focuses is asking the right people for the account to strengthen the claims.

Digging deep into the ‘Buddy Statement.’

It is common practice for the veteran’s spouse, other family members, friends, or even fellow service members to write the buddy statement. They furnish essential evidence that substantiates or lends credence to the veteran’s claims. These declarations may greatly assist when documents are misplaced, destroyed, discarded, or never kept. But why would someone with military experience require buddy statements? Per the report, there is a widespread notion that military record-keeping is flawless and that every event that has ever occurred on service is logged and adequately documented. This is a common myth. People tend to be “biased” towards historical records due to several variables, the most notable of which is the availability bias. According to the report, “Availability bias is the belief that the available evidence is representative of the phenomenon being observed.” This bias can cause people to assume that a veteran never engaged in a mission if it is not recorded in the veteran’s records, even if the veteran did participate.

Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) the Honorable Ray Mabus, right, and Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick visit with WWII veteran and USS Indianapolis survivor Robert Bunai at his home. (Source: Petty Officer 1st Class Thomas Sperduto, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Role of Network Analysis

Both the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense have maintained a repository of information about those who have served in the military that is exchanged between the two departments. The VA/DoD Identity Repository, or VADIR for short, is the name of this database. This is where network analysis plays a significant role in assessing human relationships – and in this case, for the military applying for VA claims.

The System of Records Notice from 2009 includes:

  • identifying information (e.g., name, contact information, Social Security number),
  • association to dependents, 
  • cross-reference to other names used, 
  • Military service participation and status information (branch of service, rank, enter on duty date, release from active duty date, military occupations, type of duty, the character of service, awards), 
  • reason and nature of active duty separation (completion of commitment, disability, hardship, etc.), 
  • combat/environmental exposures (combat pay, combat awards, theater location),
  • combat deployments (period of deployment, location/country), 
  • Guard/Reserve activations (period of activation, type of activation), 
  • Military casualty/disabilities (line of duty death, physical examination board status, serious/very serious injury status, DoD rated disabilities), 
  • education benefit participation, eligibility, and usage, 
  • healthcare benefit periods of eligibility (TRICARE, CHAMPVA), and 
  • VA compensation (rating, Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC), award amount).

The report said it is possible that network analysis could offer state employees tasked with verifying occurrences or exposures an automated technique to improve the outcomes of their research while also supplementing their work with additional information. With this, they can make better decisions and ideally provide faster service to veterans who may have missed or incomplete medical or personnel records if automated search capabilities across the entire unit of the veteran in front of the employee are provided to them.

Whether the traditional buddy statement or the new network analysis will be used to support the veteran’s claims, a more concerning question arises: do our veterans deserve this treatment after their bravery and valor in defending the country? Do they really need to endure this complex process to avail the rights they deserve?