Duty to Assist

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Another non-adversarial feature of the system is that the VA has a duty to assist claimants who submit a reasonably possible claim in developing evidence to support their claim. For example, the VA must try to obtain VA records, other government records (such as Social Security Administration records), and private records for the claimant. The VA may also be required to conduct a VA medical examination to assess the claimant’s physical or mental condition and obtain an opinion from a medical expert concerning the medical issue in the case.

The VA must keep trying to obtain any relevant federal records until it is discovered that the records do not exist or are unobtainable. If private medical, hospital, employment, or other civilian records contain facts pertinent to the claim, the VA should either request them from the claimant or attempt to obtain them directly, if authorized by the claimant. Advocates should suggest possible sources of information to the VA that would help prove the veteran’s claim. The VA cannot request a record it does not know about. It is better, however, if the advocate obtains this information directly. That way, the advocate can review the information to see if it supports the claim. If the information supports the denial of benefits, the advocate should not submit the information to the VA unless the VA requests that specific information.