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VA’s duty to assist

Find out what “duty to assist” means and what happens if we find a duty-to-assist error. 

What’s “duty to assist”?

This means that we’re required to help you gather evidence to support your claim for VA benefits. We’ll make a reasonable effort to help you get these types of evidence:

  • VA medical records 
  • Military service records 
  • Other types of federal records
  • Private medical records, like reports from a non-VA hospital or from your private health care providers

You’ll need to tell us what type of records you want us to gather for you, the dates of the records, and where we can get them. 

To help us decide your claim, we may also ask you to have a claim exam (also called a C&P exam). Or we may request a medical opinion. 

Learn about VA claim exams

How we define a “reasonable effort” 

For VA, military, and other types of federal records, we’ll continue to make requests until we get the records you need. We’ll stop trying only if we’re reasonably sure the records don’t exist.

For private records, we’ll make at least one follow-up request to try to get your records. If we can’t get the records you need, we’ll tell you why we’re having trouble and if you need to do anything.

Permission to access your private medical records

If you’d like our help gathering your private medical records, you’ll need to give us permission to get them. Fill out an Authorization to Disclose Information to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA Form 21-4142). You can submit this form online. Or you can download it and submit by mail.

Submit an authorization online for us to get your medical information (VA Form 21-4142)

Get VA Form 21-4142 to download

What kinds of claims will VA help me gather evidence for?

We’ll help you gather evidence for an initial claim or a Supplemental Claim. But if you have new evidence for a Board Appeal, you’ll have to gather and submit that yourself.

What’s a duty-to-assist error?

If we don’t make a reasonable effort to help you get the evidence you need for your initial claim or Supplemental Claim, that’s a duty-to-assist error. 

Sometimes this type of error means that we didn’t get medical records you told us about. Or it could mean that we didn’t request a claim exam or medical opinion you needed.

We may find this type of error when we’re reviewing the decision you received on a claim because you requested a Higher-Level Review or Board Appeal.

What happens if we find a duty-to-assist error?

If we find an error during a Higher-Level Review, we’ll close the review and open a new claim to gather the missing evidence. We’ll also send you a letter to tell you the steps we’ll take to fix the error. Then we’ll help you get the missing evidence, and decide your case based on this new evidence.

If we find an error during a Board Appeal, we’ll close the appeal and send your case back (also called “remand”) to a regional office to gather the missing evidence. We’ll also send you a letter to tell you the steps we’ll take to fix the error. After we gather the missing evidence, we’ll decide your case.

  • Find out which decision review option is right for you.

  • Learn more about going through the decision review process.

VA benefits

  • Decision reviews and appeals

    If you disagree with a VA claim decision, you can request a decision review. Decision review replaces the old (“legacy”) VA appeals process.

Need more help?

  • MyVA411 main information line:
  • VA benefits hotline:
  • Health benefits hotline:
  • Telecommunications Relay Services (using TTY) TTY: 711