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M21-1, Part III, Subpart iii, Chapter 1, Section A – General Considerations Regarding the Development Process


In This Section

1.  General Information on VA’s Duty to Assist Claimants


This topic contains general information about VA’s duty to assist claimants, including

Change Date

February 19, 2019

III.iii.1.A.1.a.  VA’s Duty to Notify and Assist Claimants

According to 38 CFR 3.159 the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has an obligation to notify and assist claimants in accordance with procedures described in

III.iii.1.A.1.b.  Who Is Responsible for Obtaining Evidence to Substantiate a Claim

Claimants are ultimately responsible for providing VA with evidence to substantiate their claim.  Nevertheless, VA has an obligation to

  • make every effort to request all the evidence it needs to decide a claim based on the records available when the claim is filed
  • undertake development to obtain additional evidence as it is identified by the claimant and/or his/her representative, and
  • make reasonable efforts to obtain
    • records held by a Federal records custodian, and
    • privately held records the claimant identifies, as long as the claimant provides the proper authorization for release of the records to VA.

References:  For more information about

III.iii.1.A.1.c.  Circumstances Under Which VA Has No Duty to Assist a Claimant

VA has no duty to assist a claimant when there is no reasonable possibility that rendering assistance would substantiate his/her claim.


  • A claimant is ineligible for benefits because he/she
    • lacks qualifying service, or
    • fails to meet other legal, eligibility requirements.
  • A claimant submits a claim that clearly lacks merit.

Reference:  For more information about circumstances under which VA has no duty to assist a claimant, see M21-1, Part I, 1.A.3.b.

III.iii.1.A.1.d.  Fees Charged for Requested Evidence

VA is not authorized to pay a fee for copies of public documents or other evidence from Federal, State, or local agencies or private sources.

Most custodians of public documents furnish copies to VA free of charge. However, if payment of a fee is required to obtain a document

  • advise the claimant that VA is not authorized to pay the fee, and
  • provide the claimant with information on how to secure the document.
Reference:  For more information on payment of fees for evidence, see VAOPGCPREC 7-1995 and 38 CFR 3.159(c).

III.iii.1.A.1.e.  Requesting Vital Records From Custodians of Public Records

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has an online version of a publication entitled Where to Write for Vital Records that contains addresses within each State to which VA or claimants may send requests for certified copies of birth, death, marriage, and divorce documents.
To submit a request
  • determine the State in which the birth, death, marriage, or divorce occurred
  • click on the hyperlink to the appropriate State, and
  • submit a request to the appropriate address on the website, using a Modern Award Processing – Development (MAP-D) or Veterans Benefits Management System (VBMS) letter.
Note:  Select the Public record-request for certified copy paragraph when preparing the letter.

III.iii.1.A.1.f.  Requests for Buddy Statements

buddy statement is a statement from an individual who has information about the Veteran’s
  • sickness
  • disease, or
  • injury.
If the claimant identifies someone who knows about his/her disabilities and/or activities, notify the claimant that he/she may request the individual to provide a buddy statement to support the claim.

III.iii.1.A.1.g.  Handling Concurrent Development Actions

When possible and in accordance with proper procedures, all necessary development actions should be completed concurrently, rather than piecemeal.


  • Social Security Administration disability records and Veteran employment history can be requested simultaneously.
  • Requests for treatment records indicated by the Veteran should be completed prior to requesting an examination with a medical opinion for the relevant condition.
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