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VA Disability Rating For Shoulder Injuries: What to Expect

Last updated: March 9, 2024

Shoulder injuries can be debilitating, especially for veterans who have faced the rigors of active duty. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers disability compensation for service-connected shoulder injuries, but navigating the system can be challenging. 

This guide aims to shed light on the VA disability rating for shoulder injuries, the types of disabilities, diagnostic procedures, and the importance of range of motion measurements.

VA Disability Rating For Shoulder Injuries

Shoulder injuries are common among veterans, especially those who have been involved in rigorous physical activities or combat situations. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognizes the impact of these injuries on veterans' daily lives and offers disability compensation to those who qualify. This compensation is designed to provide financial support to veterans who have sustained injuries or conditions related to their military service.

Eligibility For Shoulder Disability Ratings

To be eligible for VA disability benefits, a veteran must have a service-connected condition. This means the injury or illness was either caused by or exacerbated due to their active military service. There are several criteria that a veteran must meet to be considered for disability compensation:

  • Service Connection: The injury or condition must be linked to the veteran's military service. This can be an injury sustained during service, a pre-existing condition that worsened due to service, or a post-service disability related to active-duty service.

  • Active Duty Requirement: The veteran must have served on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.

  • Presumptive Conditions: The VA has a list of conditions for which they automatically presume a service connection. Veterans with these conditions don't need to prove the link between their service and the condition; they only need to meet the service requirements.

  • Discharge Status: The type of military discharge a veteran received can affect their eligibility. Those with honorable discharges are typically eligible, while those with other than honorable, bad conduct, or dishonorable discharges may need to undergo a review process.

How VA Assigns Disability Ratings

The VA uses a specific system to assign disability ratings to veterans. This system evaluates the severity of the disability and determines the amount of compensation the veteran will receive. The ratings are given in percentages, and the higher the percentage, the greater the compensation.

Conditions Covered By VA Disability Benefits

The VA covers a wide range of conditions under its disability benefits program. Some of the conditions related to shoulder injuries include:

  • Chronic back pain resulting in a diagnosed back disability

  • Loss of range of motion

  • Scar tissue from surgery or injury

  • Conditions caused by exposure to toxic chemicals or other hazards during service

In addition to physical conditions, the VA also recognizes mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, and conditions related to military sexual trauma (MST).

Types Of Shoulder Disabilities

Shoulder injuries and conditions can vary in severity and type. The shoulder, being one of the most mobile joints in the human body, is susceptible to a variety of injuries and conditions. Here's a deeper dive into some common shoulder disabilities:

Shoulder Dislocation

A shoulder dislocation occurs when the upper arm bone pops out of the cup-shaped socket that's part of the shoulder blade. This can be a partial dislocation, where the ball of the upper arm is partially out of the socket, or a complete dislocation, where it is all the way out.


  • Intense pain

  • Swelling and bruising

  • Inability to move the joint


  • Sports injuries

  • Trauma from falls or blows

  • Repeated shoulder dislocations

Rotator Cuff Injury

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that surround the shoulder joint. An injury can occur due to a tear in these tendons, either from overuse or from a sudden injury.


  • Dull ache deep in the shoulder

  • Disturbed sleep, especially if lying on the affected shoulder

  • Arm weakness


  • Lifting heavy objects

  • Repetitive arm activities

  • Aging

Frozen Shoulder

Frozen shoulder, or adhesive capsulitis, involves stiffness and pain in the shoulder joint. Over time, the shoulder becomes very hard to move.


  • Pain from any movement

  • Muscle, tendon, and joint stiffness

  • Decreased range of motion


  • Immobility or reduced mobility

  • Surgery or injury

  • Diseases such as diabetes or cardiovascular diseases

Shoulder Separation

This injury affects the acromioclavicular joint, and it's different from a shoulder dislocation. A shoulder separation occurs when the ligaments attached to the collarbone tear away from the shoulder blade.


  • Shoulder pain

  • Tenderness at the joint

  • Swelling and bruising


  • Sports injuries

  • Falls onto the shoulder

  • Direct blows to the shoulder

Other Arm Conditions

Apart from the specific shoulder conditions mentioned above, there are other arm conditions that can affect the shoulder indirectly. These include:

  • Tennis Elbow: Caused by overuse of the elbow but can result in pain radiating to the shoulder.

  • Bursitis: Inflammation of the bursa, a fluid-filled sac that helps reduce friction in the shoulder joints.

  • Arthritis: Inflammation of the joints, which can affect the shoulder, causing pain and stiffness.

It's essential to consult with a medical professional if you experience any symptoms of these conditions. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent further complications and ensure a faster recovery.

Diagnosing A Shoulder Disability

When it comes to shoulder injuries, accurate diagnosis is crucial. The shoulder is a complex joint with multiple components, and pinpointing the exact cause of pain or disability can be challenging. Here's a closer look at how medical professionals diagnose shoulder disabilities:

Initial Consultation

  • Medical History: The first step in diagnosing a shoulder disability is taking a detailed medical history. The doctor will ask about the onset of pain, any specific incidents that might have caused the injury, and any previous shoulder problems.

  • Physical Examination: A thorough physical examination will be conducted to assess the range of motion, strength, and any tenderness in the shoulder. The doctor may ask the patient to perform specific movements to determine which parts of the shoulder are affected.

Imaging Tests

  • X-rays: These are the most common imaging tests used to diagnose shoulder problems. They can reveal fractures, tumors, and certain other abnormalities.

  • MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): An MRI can provide detailed images of the shoulder's soft tissues, such as the ligaments, tendons, and muscles. It's particularly useful for detecting rotator cuff tears and other soft tissue injuries.

  • CT (Computed Tomography) Scan: This test combines X-rays taken from various angles to produce cross-sectional images of the body. It can help detect bone problems and some soft tissue conditions.

Specialized Tests

  • Arthroscopy: This is a surgical procedure in which a small camera, called an arthroscope, is inserted into the shoulder joint. It allows the doctor to view the inside of the joint and can be used both for diagnosis and treatment.

  • Electromyography (EMG): This test measures the electrical activity of the muscles. It can help determine if there are any nerve disorders causing the shoulder problems.

Lab Tests

In some cases, blood tests or other lab work might be necessary, especially if the doctor suspects an infection, arthritis, or other systemic conditions.

Referral To Specialists

If the general practitioner or initial orthopedic specialist is unable to determine the cause of the shoulder disability, they might refer the patient to a more specialized doctor, such as a rheumatologist (for suspected arthritis) or a neurologist (for nerve-related issues).

Range Of Motion Measurement For Shoulders

The range of motion (ROM) in the shoulder is a critical aspect of assessing its function and diagnosing potential issues. The shoulder joint is one of the most versatile in the human body, allowing for a wide range of movements. Measuring this range can provide valuable insights into the health and functionality of the shoulder. Here's how the range of motion for shoulders is typically measured:

Understanding Range Of Motion (ROM)

Range of motion refers to the full movement potential of a joint, usually its range of flexion and extension. For the shoulder, this includes movements like lifting your arm overhead, reaching behind your back, or rotating your arm inward and outward.

Tools Used For Measurement

  • Goniometer: This is the most common tool used to measure joint angles. It's a protractor-like device that measures the angle at which a joint is flexed or extended.

  • Inclinometer: This device measures the angle of inclination, helping to determine the tilt or rotation in the shoulder.

Types Of Movements Measured

  • Flexion And Extension: Lifting the arm up in front (flexion) and moving it down and backward (extension).

  • Abduction And Adduction: Lifting the arm out to the side (abduction) and bringing it back down to the side of the body (adduction).

  • Internal And External Rotation: Turning the arm inward (internal rotation) and outward (external rotation).

Factors Affecting ROM

Several factors can affect the range of motion in the shoulder, including:

  • Age: As we age, our joints tend to become stiffer and less flexible.

  • Injuries: Traumas or injuries can limit the ROM due to pain or physical restrictions.

  • Surgery: Post-operative stiffness can temporarily reduce ROM.

  • Arthritis: Inflammatory conditions can lead to joint stiffness and reduced mobility.

Importance Of ROM Measurement

Measuring the range of motion in the shoulder can:

  • Help diagnose conditions or injuries.

  • Track the progress of rehabilitation.

  • Determine if treatments are effective.

  • Provide a baseline for future measurements.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about VA disability rating for shoulder.

What is a service-connected condition?

A service-connected condition refers to an illness or injury that was either caused by or worsened due to active military service.

How does the VA determine the percentage of disability?

The VA evaluates the severity of the disability and assigns a percentage based on how the condition affects the veteran's daily life and ability to work.

Are mental health conditions covered by VA disability benefits?

Yes, the VA recognizes several mental health conditions, including PTSD, anxiety, depression, and conditions related to military sexual trauma (MST).

What if I have multiple conditions?

The VA will evaluate each condition separately and assign individual ratings. These ratings are then combined using a specific formula to determine the overall disability percentage.

Can I appeal if I disagree with my disability rating?

Yes, veterans have the right to appeal if they disagree with the VA's decision regarding their disability rating.

How long does it take to process a VA disability claim?

The processing time can vary based on the complexity of the claim, the evidence provided, and other factors. It's essential to provide all necessary documentation to expedite the process.

Understanding VA Disability Ratings For Shoulder Injuries

Understanding the intricacies of VA Disability Ratings for Shoulder Injuries is paramount for veterans seeking rightful compensation. From the types of shoulder disabilities to the diagnostic procedures, being well-informed can make the process smoother. Always remember to consult with healthcare professionals and the VA for personalized advice and guidance. Your service and sacrifice deserve the best care and support.

Find out how to get a 100 VA Disability rating by checking out our detailed guide. Visit Disability Help and browse through the available resources to learn more.

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Chloe Powers
Chloe works with policymakers on behalf of Disability Help to support their work at a strategic level, ensuring the conditions are in place for creative individuals and organizations to grow, reach their potential and effect relevant, sustainable change.
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