Shrapnel wounds are an unfortunate eventuality in warfare and are most commonly inflicted in combat. Aside from the initial physical trauma, shrapnel may account for pain, disability, and illness later in life, and as such, shrapnel wounds are covered in the VA rating system, mostly within the rating schedules for muscle injuries and disabilities.
What is Shrapnel?
Shrapnel refers to the metal fragments thrown out by a shell, bomb, mine, or other explosive devices when it explodes. They are capable of penetrating and damaging skin, muscle, and nerves, and aside from the initial wound may cause lifelong health problems for a wounded veteran. Because of the sheer unpredictability of combat, shrapnel wounds may occur anywhere on the body and may range from minor to severe. It is even possible for shrapnel to lead to a traumatic brain injury (TBI) should the high-velocity fragments penetrate the skull.
Treatment typically involves removing as much shrapnel as possible from a wound and retaining any undamaged muscle in the area, but the inflicted damage may be enough to lead to problems farther down the road. Because muscle pain and weakness are the most common issues related to shrapnel injuries, you will want to file your claim based on the location and extent of disability of your affected muscles.
Filing a Claim for Shrapnel Wounds
When you seek to file a claim for service-connected compensation for a muscle injury or disability caused by shrapnel, you’ll want to pay attention to your symptoms. According to the VA Evaluation of Muscle Disabilities, symptoms include loss of power, weakness, lowered threshold of fatigue, fatigue-pain, impairment of coordination, and uncertainty of movement.
VA rates muscle injuries under diagnostic codes 5301 through 5323, and classifies them according to severity, grading injuries as the following:
Slight: a simple wound without debridement or infection. Healing with good functional results, and no cardinal signs or symptoms of muscle disability.
Moderate: a through and through or deep-penetrating wound without residuals of debridement or prolonged infection. Your service records may indicate complaint of one or more cardinal signs or symptoms of muscle disability, and a lowered threshold of fatigue. Presence of entrance and/or exit scars, as well as lost fascia or muscle.
Moderately Severe: a through and through or deep-penetrating wound with debridement and prolonged infection, or sloughing of soft parts or intermuscular scarring. Records indicate a prolonged hospital stay and consistent complaint of signs and symptoms of muscle disability. Presence of entrance and/or exit scars, as well as lost deep fascia or muscle.
Severe: a through and through or deep-penetrating wound, with possible shattering bone fracture, extensive debridement, prolonged infection, or sloughing of soft parts or intermuscular binding and scarring. Records indicate a prolonged hospital stay and consistent complaint of signs and symptoms of muscle disability worse than moderately severe, possibly interfering with the ability to perform work. Presence of ragged, depressed, and adherent scars, loss of deep fascia, and muscle.
Since shrapnel wounds can affect any part of the body, veterans must be wary of pyramiding ratings. The policy against pyramiding ratings is that a veteran cannot earn compensation more than once for the same disability or manifestation of symptoms. So if you have a shrapnel wound on top of another condition, but both cause the same disability or symptoms, you cannot receive compensation for both conditions.
Assistance with Your Claims and Appeals
Shrapnel wounds can make day-to-day life more difficult as time goes on, so it is in your best interest to pay close attention to your symptoms and level of disability. If you are preparing to file your first claim, need to increase your rating, or need assistance filing an appeal, VA Disability Group is here to guide you through the process. Contact us at 844-VET-LAWS or fill out our online form to get started today.