Many veterans face a common problem when seeking VA disability benefits – VA finds that they are not credible. Most often, this unfavorable finding shows up in a decision from the Board of Veterans’ Appeals stating, “the Board finds the veteran’s statements are not credible.” In addition to the surprise of receiving such a decision, veterans are often left wondering what happened and what can be done to correct VA’s view of their statements.
What does credibility mean in a VA claim?
VA defines credibility as “a blanket term for the fact finding of whether evidence is believable or not believable.” In addition, VA considers facts such as: facial plausibility; consistency with other evidence submitted; internal consistency; demeanor of a witness, and the interest or bias, when assessing whether a veteran’s statements are credible. The issue of credibility comes up most frequently when either a veteran or VA are unable to locate records documenting a veteran’s service, injury, or exposure.
What can you do if VA finds your statements not credible?
Although an adverse credibility finding is often a barrier to receiving disability benefits, there are ways to correct VA’s error:
The fastest and most effective way to show VA that it made a mistake when finding your statements not credible is to provide records supporting your statements. These records may include service treatment records, private treatment records, or any other records that document the incident or injury for which you are seeking disability compensation. VA places a lot of importance on the presence of supporting records so you should try to obtain as many supporting records as possible.
Statements from friends and family
If unable to obtain supporting records, another way to support your credibility is by providing statements from fellow service members, family members, friends, or coworkers. Because records are often lost or destroyed due to age or mishandling, supporting statements from other people familiar with an event or injury can often be used to show that statements are credible.
Articles from qualified medical or historical sources
While not as persuasive as records or supporting statements, articles from reliable medical or historical sources can be used to support your credibility. For example, there are many reliable sources both from private sources and the Department of Defense documenting the use and storage of herbicides and other hazardous exposures. While VA will often find ways to discredit this type of information, articles can be a helpful source of information to support statements if official service or medical records are lost or missing.
A negative credibility finding can be reversed.
It is important to remember that an adverse credibility finding is not final. Just like most other VA decisions, a negative credibility finding can be appealed or challenged. The best way to challenge VA’s credibility finding will depend on the status of your case but veterans should not give up a claim simply because a VA decision maker found their statements not credible.
If you have any questions concerning your active or potential VA disability claim, attorney Heiden and the legal professionals at West & Dunn stand ready to help. Please contact us by phone at 608-535-6420 or through our Contact Us page for a free consultation regarding your case.