Shrapnel wounds in veterans can lead to related physical and psychological health problems. Many veterans with shrapnel wounds are eligible to receive benefits from the VA.
Understanding how the VA rates shrapnel wounds can help veterans and their families ensure they receive a fair amount to compensate for the lifelong effects of this disability.
Health Problems Caused By Shrapnel
The VA refers to shrapnel as "toxic embedded fragments." Specifically, "shrapnel" refers to the metal fragments of bullets, bombs, and other debris thrown out from explosions that occur during combat.
According to the VA, shrapnel generally causes health problems in two ways. First, shrapnel can cause disability at the site where the fragment is embedded. Second, metal ions can be released from the fragment and travel through the bloodstream to affect other parts of the body.
According to a 2016 study published in Public Health Reports, many forms of shrapnel contain uranium. Uranium is highly toxic and can lead to health problems, including kidney damage, liver cancer, and bone cancer. It may also cause high blood pressure, autoimmune disorders, and loss of reproductive function.
Scarring, tumors, and traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are other common health problems caused by shrapnel. Depending on the location, shrapnel wounds can be challenging to treat and lead to complications, including chronic pain, difficulty breathing, and nervous system problems. Complications of TBIs include cognitive impairment, nerve damage, and organ failure.
The physical health problems caused by shrapnel can impair a veteran's quality of life and increase the risk of mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Many veterans with shrapnel wounds are affected by PTSD due to the painful injuries and situations they faced during combat.
Categories Of Shrapnel Wounds
The VA rates most shrapnel wounds as muscle disabilities. These disabilities fall into four categories: slight, moderate, moderately severe, and severe.
Slight muscle disabilities from shrapnel are usually wounds that are not infected and do not contain debris.
Veterans with slight shrapnel disabilities are still mobile and have no scarring or very minimal scarring.
Moderate muscle disabilities from shrapnel are usually deeper and more penetrating than slight disabilities but are similar in that they are not infected and do not contain debris. Veterans with moderate disabilities may have scarring and loss of muscle tone in the affected area. These individuals may also have symptoms related to this wound and other health problems caused by the shrapnel.
Moderately severe disabilities from shrapnel are often deep, penetrating wounds that have caused long-term infection and may still have debris. The affected muscles may have scar tissue that causes strength, endurance, and mobility problems. Veterans with this type of muscle disability have often been hospitalized for their wounds and still suffer symptoms.
Severe muscle disabilities from shrapnel are often severe and accompanied by long-term infection, severe scarring, limited range of motion, and chronic conditions including pain and arthritis. Many veterans with severe disabilities can no longer work and struggle with performing everyday activities like walking and bathing.
How Does the VA Rate Shrapnel Wounds?
When determining benefits for any veteran, the VA thoroughly reviews and evaluates the veteran's disability and current health status. This includes all symptoms and conditions and the shrapnel wound causing the disability.
The veteran can submit lay statements from his friends and relatives to show how his overall health and quality of life are affected by the disability.
The VA assigns ratings to disabilities from shrapnel wounds in 10% increments between 10% and 100%. Veterans with slight muscle disabilities are usually given the smallest benefit of 10%, while veterans with severe disabilities may receive benefits up to 100%.
An appropriate disability rating can give veterans and their families the financial assistance needed to properly care for and treat conditions that result from shrapnel wounds. The appropriate rating can also help compensate for the psychological impact of combat-related disability.