Sgt Bowe Bergdahl collected his soldier’s pay along with regular promotions while with the Taliban. If the coming Army investigation finds he properly held Captive or Prisoner of War status, he could receive certain disability payments for life, regardless of the way he came to be a captive.
None of what follows should be presumed to carry a value judgment in favor or opposed to the benefits due Sgt Bergdahl.
Regardless How He Got There, Bergdahl Was Still A Captive
“As a legal matter, if they designate him as a POW and he is discharged with that status, he gets paid and certain benefits as a POW for the rest of his life,” said Cully Stimson, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Detainee Policy in the Bush Administration.
Clydie J. Morgan, Executive Director with American Ex-Prisoners of War, said that pay is limited to medically determined disabilities, though there is a list of problems that are presumed to have been caused by captivity.
Even if Bergdahl intended to leave his unit, he would continue to get paid any disability pay and have VA privileges.
“It doesn’t matter,” Stimson said, “because if they designate him and it’s found to hold water that he’s a POW, in other words, that they make a declaration that he’s a Prisoner of War and he meets the qualifications for that, then he’s mustered out as a POW and he gets the pay and benefits of a POW for the rest of his life.”
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, former POWs diagnosed with any of the conditions in the categories below are presumed to be service-connected for those conditions, regardless of their length of time in captivity:
- Osteoporosis (on or after October 10, 2008, if the POW has PTSD)
- Neuro-Psychiatric, including psychosis, dysthymic disorder (Depressive Neurosis), any of the Anxiety States (e.g., PTSD)
- Cold Injury
- Traumatic Arthritis
- Heart Disease
The following additional conditions are presumed to be service-connected for former POWs who were captive for 30 days or more:
- Osteoporosis (on or after September 28, 2009)
- Nutritional deficiencies, including avitaminosis, beriberi, malnutrition, and pellagra
- Peripheral Neuropathy
- Digestive disorders, including peptic ulcer disease, chronic dysentery, irritable bowel syndrome, and cirrhosis of the liver
It’s quite likely that Sgt Bergdahl has a number of those conditions.
Pay Accumulates for Captives and POWs
Via ABC News / AP:
- Bergdahl was listed by the Pentagon on July 1, 2009, as “duty status whereabouts unknown.” Two days later his status was changed to “missing/captured,” and it did not change again prior to his release.
- The Pentagon defines “missing/captured” as a member of the armed forces who has been “seized as the result of action of an unfriendly military or paramilitary force in a foreign country.”
As a Captive, Bergdahl collected his full pay and even half the worldwide average for per diem. While some make a distinction between Captive and Prisoner of War, it doesn’t change his benefits whether he was labeled a formal Prisoner of War under the Geneva Conventions or merely assigned Captive status.
According to the Army Captive / POW / MIA data sheet:
- Active duty Soldiers who are officially determined to be a Captive, Prisoner of War, Missing, Missing in Action, interned in a foreign country, captured, beleaguered or besieged by a hostile force, or detained in a foreign country against their will are entitled to receive or have credited to account the pay and allowances to which entitled when missing status began or to which a member becomes entitled later.
- Captive or POW Pay and Allowance Entitlements: Soldiers are entitled to all pay and allowances that were authorized prior to the POW period. Soldiers who are in a POW status are authorized payment of 50% of the worldwide average per diem rate for each day held in captive status.
How Was Bergdahl Promoted to Sergeant?
POW personnel continue to be considered for promotion along with their contemporaries when they are eligible. For enlisted members, eligibility is based on time in grade and time in service.
At the time of his capture, Bergdahl’s rank was that of Private First Class (E-3). In June 2010, he was promoted to Specialist (E-4) during his absence. On June 17, 2011 he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant (E-5).