Skip to content

January 6, 2023

Understanding VA Ratings for Shrapnel Wounds

I hope you enjoy reading this blog post.

If you want to learn how to implement these strategies to get the VA benefits you deserve, click here to speak with a VA claim expert for free.

You may be eligible for VA benefits if you’ve served in the military and have experienced shrapnel wounds. The VA rating system determines the extent of these injuries and how much compensation should be provided. 

In this article, we’ll explain how the VA rates shrapnel wounds so that you can better understand your situation and the options available to you. 


What Is a Shrapnel Wound?

A shrapnel wound is a type of traumatic injury experienced by veterans that occurs when an explosive device, such as an artillery shell, sends fragments and pieces of metal flying through the air. 

The shrapnel penetrates soft tissue and may even cause damage to organs or bones. These types of wounds can be fatal, depending on the location and severity of the injury. 

Treatment for shrapnel wounds often involves surgery and antibiotics to remove debris from inside the body and prevent infection. Veterans need to seek medical attention as soon as possible to ensure proper treatment and reduce the risk of long-term complications from a shrapnel wound.

Different Types of Shrapnel Injuries 

Shrapnel injuries can be classified according to their type and severity. Common types of shrapnel injuries include: 

  • Wounds to the skin (such as lacerations, penetration injuries, and blast injuries) 
  • Penetrating wounds (caused by tiny pieces of metal that enter the body at high speeds and can cause significant damage)
  • Blast injuries (most commonly occur from an explosive device and can affect the entire body, including the lungs, intestines, arteries, veins, bones, and muscles)

Depending on the severity of the shrapnel injury and associated disability rating, veterans may be eligible for compensation or other benefits.

Does Shrapnel Travel in the Body?

Shrapnel can travel throughout the body depending on the severity of the injury. Shrapnel may be embedded in muscles and organs, or it may travel through the veins and arteries. 

In some cases, shrapnel can embed itself into the brain leading to traumatic brain injuries. Veterans who have suffered from penetrating wounds due to shrapnel are often eligible for benefits and compensation related to pain and suffering, loss of use of certain body parts, and disabilities caused by the injury.


VA Benefits for Shrapnel Wounds

Veterans who suffer from shrapnel wounds may qualify for VA disability benefits. VA disability compensation is intended to provide financial and medical assistance to veterans with physical, mental, or emotional impairments that resulted directly from their service. 

To qualify for these benefits, veterans must file a claim for VA disability compensation, prove that their injuries resulted from their time in the military, and meet certain eligibility criteria set forth by the VA. 

How to Qualify for VA Disability Benefits

Veterans who qualify for VA disability benefits must be able to provide evidence that their injuries or impairments are caused or made worse by their military service. It includes providing medical documentation of the injury, a diagnosis, a medical nexus letter or Independent Medical Opinion (IMO), and proof of any physical or psychological limitations. 

Additionally, a claimant must provide a complete service record and discharge papers to verify active duty status and medical records of any treatment received. Depending on the severity and extent of the injury and associated impairments, veterans can be awarded anywhere from 0-100% disability compensation. 

How Does the VA Rate Shrapnel Wounds?

The VA rates shrapnel injuries according to their severity and the amount of disability they cause. 

Generally speaking, the more severe a shrapnel injury is, the higher the rating and associated compensation benefits veterans may receive. For example, a veteran who has suffered from shrapnel penetration wounds that led to traumatic brain injury or disfigurement would likely be eligible for a higher disability rating. 


VA Rating for Shrapnel Wounds

The VA assigns disability ratings for shrapnel wounds utilizing the Evaluation of Muscle Disabilities, which details the primary signs and symptoms of muscle disabilities considered for VA rating requirements. These include loss of power, weakness, lowered threshold of fatigue, fatigue pain, impairment of coordination, and uncertainty in movement. Additionally, under diagnostic codes 5301 through 5323, disabilities resulting from muscle injuries shall be classified as slight, moderate, moderately severe or severe as follows:

  • A slight wound does not need debridement or infection control. It can be documented with quick treatment and a minor scar, providing no evidence of muscle tissue atrophy or metallic fragments being retained and leaving no impairment on functionality.
  • The moderate classification of wounds is for those sustained from a single bullet, small shell, or shrapnel fragment without any explosive effect. These moderate-level injuries may require debridement and involve some loss of muscle substance and retained foreign bodies that can cause prolonged infection and create functional impairment. The presence of entrance and (if applicable) exit scars indicate this type of wound severity level, in addition to the patient’s consistent complaint involving one or more cardinal signs.
  • Moderately severe: intense or penetrating sound accompanied by debridement and prolonged infection; hospitalization necessary to address the wound adequately; a repeated indication of hallmark symptoms, including entrance and (where applicable) exit wounds through one or multiple muscle groups; incapability to meet job duties due to strength and endurance detriments.
  • A severe wound caused by a high-velocity missile which resulted in shattering bone fractures and open comminuted fracture with extensive debridement was the impetus for prolonged hospitalization due to infection. The cardinal signs were consistently reported, resulting in an inability to perform work requirements. Scars indicating wide damage to muscle groups and loss of muscle mass led to muscles becoming swollen and hardened abnormally – ultimately causing a significant decrease in strength, endurance, or coordinated movements.

Additionally, the Code of Federal Regulations defines the distinction in the eCFR as follows:

“Slight disability of muscles

(i) Type of injury. Simple wound of muscle without debridement or infection.

(ii) History and complaint. Service department record of superficial wound with brief treatment and return to duty. Healing with good functional results. No cardinal signs or symptoms of muscle disability as defined in paragraph (c) of this section.

(iii) Objective findings. Minimal scar. No evidence of fascial defect, atrophy, or impaired tonus. No impairment of function or metallic fragments retained in muscle tissue.

Moderate disability of muscles

(i) Type of injury. Through and through or deep penetrating wound of short track from a single bullet, small shell or shrapnel fragment, without explosive effect of high velocity missile, residuals of debridement, or prolonged infection.

(ii) History and complaint. Service department record or other evidence of in-service treatment for the wound. Record of consistent complaint of one or more of the cardinal signs and symptoms of muscle disability as defined in paragraph (c) of this section, particularly lowered threshold of fatigue after average use, affecting the particular functions controlled by the injured muscles.

(iii) Objective findings. Entrance and (if present) exit scars, small or linear, indicating short track of missile through muscle tissue. Some loss of deep fascia or muscle substance or impairment of muscle tonus and loss of power or lowered threshold of fatigue when compared to the sound side.

Moderately severe disability of muscles

(i) Type of injury. Through and through or deep penetrating wound by small high velocity missile or large low-velocity missile, with debridement, prolonged infection, or sloughing of soft parts, and intermuscular scarring.

(ii) History and complaint. Service department record or other evidence showing hospitalization for a prolonged period for treatment of wound. Record of consistent complaint of cardinal signs and symptoms of muscle disability as defined in paragraph (c) of this section and, if present, evidence of inability to keep up with work requirements.

(iii) Objective findings. Entrance and (if present) exit scars indicating track of missile through one or more muscle groups. Indications on palpation of loss of deep fascia, muscle substance, or normal firm resistance of muscles compared with sound side. Tests of strength and endurance compared with sound side demonstrate positive evidence of impairment.

Severe disability of muscles

(i) Type of injury. Through and through or deep penetrating wound due to high-velocity missile, or large or multiple low-velocity missiles, or with shattering bone fracture or open comminuted fracture with extensive debridement, prolonged infection, or sloughing of soft parts, intermuscular binding and scarring.

(ii) History and complaint. Service department record or other evidence showing hospitalization for a prolonged period for treatment of wound. Record of consistent complaint of cardinal signs and symptoms of muscle disability as defined in paragraph (c) of this section, worse than those shown for moderately severe muscle injuries, and, if present, evidence of inability to keep up with work requirements.

(iii) Objective findings. Ragged, depressed, and adherent scars indicating wide damage to muscle groups in missile track. Palpation shows loss of deep fascia or muscle substance, or soft flabby muscles in wound area. Muscles swell and harden abnormally in contraction. Tests of strength, endurance, or coordinated movements compared with the corresponding muscles of the uninjured side indicate severe impairment of function. If present, the following are also signs of severe muscle disability:

(A) X-ray evidence of minute multiple scattered foreign bodies indicating intermuscular trauma and explosive effect of the missile.

(B) Adhesion of scar to one of the long bones, scapula, pelvic bones, sacrum, or vertebrae, with epithelial sealing over the bone rather than true skin covering in an area where bone is normally protected by muscle.

(C) Diminished muscle excitability to pulsed electrical current in electrodiagnostic tests.

(D) Visible or measurable atrophy.

(E) Adaptive contraction of an opposing group of muscles.

(F) Atrophy of muscle groups not in the track of the missile, particularly of the trapezius and serratus in wounds of the shoulder girdle.

(G) Induration or atrophy of an entire muscle following simple piercing by a projectile.”


Service Connection for Shrapnel Wounds

Service connection for shrapnel wounds can be established in injuries incurred during or directly related to an individual’s military service. 

It can include evidence of direct or indirect causation, such as where the claimant was within a certain proximity to an explosion or battle site. The VA will also consider factors like the depth of the wound, any scarring present, evidence of retained metal fragments in muscle tissue, and any functional impairment. 

Getting Help With Your VA Claim

At VA Claims Insider, we’re here to walk you through everything you need to know, including how to file your VA claims. We hope this guide has been helpful. Remember, if you have any questions, we encourage you to contact us for support.



Most veterans are underrated for their disabilities and, therefore, not getting their due compensation. At VA Claims Insider, we help you understand and take control of the claims process, so you can get the rating and compensation you’re owed by law. 

Our process takes the guesswork out of filing a VA disability claim and supports you every step of the way in building a fully-developed claim (FDC)—so you can increase your rating FAST! If you’ve filed your VA disability claim and have been denied or have received a low rating—or you’re unsure how to get started—reach out to us! Take advantage of a FREE VA Claim Discovery Call. Learn what you’ve been missing—so you can FINALLY get the disability rating and compensation YOU DESERVE!

Brian Reese
Brian Reese

Brian Reese

Brian Reese is one of the top VA disability benefits experts in the world and bestselling author of You Deserve It: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Veteran Benefits You’ve Earned (Second Edition).

Brian’s frustration with the VA claim process led him to create VA Claims Insider, which provides disabled veterans with tips, strategies, and lessons learned to win their VA disability compensation claim, faster, even if they’ve already filed, been denied, gave up, or don’t know where to start. 

As the founder of VA Claims Insider and CEO of Military Disability Made Easy, he has helped serve more than 10 million military members and veterans since 2013 through free online educational resources.

He is a former active duty Air Force officer with extensive experience leading hundreds of individuals and multi-functional teams in challenging international environments, including a combat tour to Afghanistan in 2011 supporting Operation ENDURING FREEDOM.

Brian is a Distinguished Graduate of Management from the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, CO, and he holds an MBA from Oklahoma State University’s Spears School of Business, Stillwater, OK, where he was a National Honor Scholar (Top 1% of Graduate School class).

Related Articles

How Do I Get VA SMC R1 for PTSD?

How Do I Get VA SMC R1 for PTSD?

July 24, 2024

If you're a veteran suffering from severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and struggling with daily activities, you may be eligible for Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) at the R1... continue reading
2025 va special monthly compensation rates

2025 VA SMC Rates & Charts

The 2025 VA Special Monthly Compensation (SMC) rates are projected to increase by 2.7%, effective December 1, 2024, with payments starting on January 1, 2025. These updated rates provide... continue reading

Featured Resources

Elite Membership

Dear Veteran,
Here’s the brutal truth about VA disability claims:

According to our data, 8/10 (80%) of veterans reading this message right now are underrated by the VA…

This means you do NOT currently have the VA disability rating and compensation YOU deserve, and you could be missing out on thousands of dollars of tax-free compensation and benefits each month.

As a fellow disabled Veteran this is shameful and I’m on a mission to change it.

Brian Reese here, Air Force service-disabled Veteran and Founder @ VA Claims Insider.

Since 2016, VA Claims Insider has helped thousands of Veterans just like you get the VA rating and compensation they deserve in less time.

If accepted into our ELITE membership program, you’ll get free up-front access and permission to use $13,119 worth of proprietary VA claim resources, including access to our network of independent medical professionals for medical examinations, disability evaluations, and credible Medical Nexus Letters, which could help you get a HIGHER VA rating in LESS time.

It’s FREE to get started, so click “Go Elite Now” below to complete our 3-step intake process.

  1. Complete Basic Information
  2. Sign Members Agreement
  3. Join the Mastermind Group

If you’re stuck, frustrated, underrated, and currently rated between 0%-90%, VA Claims Insider Elite is for you!

Click “Go Elite Now” below to get started today and a member of our team will be in touch within minutes.

Go Elite Now!

Why Choose VA Claims Insider

You’ve exhausted your free resources

You're not alone. Thousands of other Veterans in our Community are here for you.

Veteran Community

You’re ready to get the rating you deserve

We know the pain of feeling stuck, frustrated, and alone, and we want to make this process as easy and painless as possible for you.

Explore Elite Membership

We win ONLY when YOU win

Hear from fellow Veterans just like you, with many of our Veteran Ambassadors having gone through our programs.

Schedule a Call

Fellow Veterans:

For a limited time, you can book a free, no-obligation VA Claim Discovery Call with one of our experts.

Book A Call

Fellow Veterans:

For a limited time, you can book a free, no-obligation VA Claim Discovery Call with one of our experts.

Book A Call