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Rating Gunshot Wounds for Vietnam Veterans

Many veterans who saw combat in Vietnam received injuries for which Congress intended to provide compensation. A significant number of these veterans did not receive the compensation that Congress intended to pay because of the lack of medical documentation in the field, the improper interpretation of the existing medical documentation, and the failure of the VA to apply the law properly.

This problem affected Vietnam Veterans much more than veterans of earlier wars. In World War II, veterans who received gunshot and shell fragment wounds were cared for in field hospitals near the front lines. The same was true for soldiers treated in the MASH units in Korea. The soldiers stayed in these field hospitals until they were able to return to their units. The doctors manning these hospitals kept copious notes on the extent and nature of the soldiers’ wounds and these notes were later available to the VA in applying the regulations on these types of wounds.

In Vietnam, an entirely different scenario applied to wounded soldiers. Combat wounded soldiers were air evacuated out of the battle field to field hospitals. Emergency care was provided to soldiers and they were very quickly returned to their units or flown out of the country. There were no medical notes similar to the ones available after World War II and Korea. The emphasis of the combat physicians was to provide emergency medical care and get the wounded soldiers to the appropriate care centers.  For many Vietnam veterans, the first comprehensive treatment report was the discharge examination from a military hospital in the United States.  These medical reports did not always fully document the extent of the wounds incurred.

As a result, there is very little information from the Vietnam field hospitals concerning the path of projectiles through the body and the muscles involved in the combat wounds. This is the type of information which the VA used after World War II and Korea to properly rate those combat veterans. The detailed information concerning combat wounds from Vietnam was simply not available after the war. Because of this, many valid claims were denied because there was insufficient proof of muscles injured in combat and whether the wound was a through-and-through injury, an important factor in evaluating the severity of gunshot and shell fragment wounds.

In addition to problems associated with the medical notes in Vietnam, many Vietnam Veterans did not get the full benefit of the VA Rating Schedule.  Every gunshot or shell fragment wound which resulted in a through and through injury should have been rated at at least the minimum compensable level, regardless of whether the wound caused a long term disability. Every gunshot wound or shell fragment wound which resulted in a through-and-through injury and a shattered bone should have been rated at the severe level for each muscle group involved – again, regardless of whether the healed wound caused a disability. These required ratings were sometimes missed by the VA because of lack of proof of the through-and-through injury and sometimes because the regulations were not applied properly.

Every Vietnam Veteran who suffered a gunshot wound or a shell fragment wound should consider getting an attorney experienced in veteran’s law to take a second look at their original rating. Congress intended these men who served our country in Vietnam to receive full compensation for their injuries. It’s not too late to make sure that the compensation the VA gave them was correct.

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