A metallic structure in its initial stage of failure involves plastic deformation or environmental degradation that changes the elastic modulus and density. This work presents the detection of change in wave velocity (a function of elastic modulus and density) as a system identification problem. A physics-informed neural network (PINN) is proposed to solve the system identification problem. The PINN takes the spatial coordinates of scanning locations and time as inputs and provides the displacement and wave velocity as outputs. The governing partial differential equation of standing waves in a rod is incorporated into the neural network as physics in the form of a loss function. The wave velocity vector is randomly initiated. During the training of the network, physics is used to determine and update the wave velocity target vector from the network’s displacement predictions. The measured data, comprising sparse displacement response on the rod structure, are used to train the PINN. The wave velocity at the sparse locations on the rod is learned from the predicted displacements during the training. Using the predictions of the trained network, the response of free vibration or material property variation can be reconstructed at unscanned locations on the structure to obtain high-resolution maps for full-field imaging to detect and localize the changes caused by plastic deformation. The PINN’s sparse scanning and simultaneous prediction capability during training can lead to high scanning and data-processing speeds. This capability yields a nondestructive evaluation system that can predict the presence of degraded material locations as the structural vibrations are scanned and processed in real time.