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Repatriating Prisoners of War

By

Jessica Lynch

Army PFC Jessica Lynch is carried by U.S. special forces as she is removed from the Saddam Hospital in Nasiryia, Iraq, early Tuesday, April 1, 2003.

Department of Defense

Somebody asked me the other day about what happens when an American Prisoner of War (POW) is returned to United States control.

It's a hard question to answer, because so much of it depends on the individual circumstances. However, there is kind of a set procedure that the military has developed over the years.

Initial Medical Treatment and Evaluation

In each area of the World, the military has major medical facilities that have been specifically designated for casualty care. For example, the major medical facility that has been designated for the Persian Gulf and Afghanistan is Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

Repatriated POWs in the Gulf and Afghanistan regions would first be transported to Landstuhl. Immediately, the Army would assign a "Repatriation Team." The team is composed of military medical doctors, intelligence specialists, and pyschologists (or psychiatrists). The team is responsible to initiate a program to first, take care of the medical and mental health needs of the military member, and second, to debrief the member in order to obtain information concerning his/her capture and imprisonment.

Continuing Medical Treatment and Evaluation

Once the member has been pronounced medically fit for transportation, and the debriefers have obtained initial information, in most cases, the military member will then be transported to one of the military's three major medical centers in the United States: Wilford Hall Medical Center, in San Antonio, Texas, operated by the United States Air Force, Bethesda Medical Center in Maryland, operated by the United States Navy, or the Walter Reed Medical Center, in Washington D.C., operated by the United States Army.

It is at one of these major medical centers that any necessary long-term treatment will be conducted. This treatment consists of meeting both the medical needs and the psychological needs of the repatriated member. Additionally, debriefings will continue as allowed by the medical and psychological attending physicians.

In many cases, once it is determined that the member can be discharged from medical care, they will receive additional medical recovery time by being placed on "convelescent leave." Convelescent leave is non-chargable medical leave, which allows the military member to travel home to recouperate (if they wish). The length of such leave is determined by the medical officials, and approved by the commander of the medical facility.

Medical Evaluation Board

It is possible that injuries received may be serious enough to preclude the member from being returned to active duty. If the medical officials feel that there is a long-term medical or mental health problem which would preclude return to military duties, a Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) is conducted. The board is composed of highly experienced military medical professionals who will examine the member's medical records and make a determination as to whether or not the member should be retained in the military. If the MEB recommends non-retention, and the member meets certain criteria, then he/she can be "medically retired" (disability retirement) from the military. Additionally, depending on the degree of disability, the member may be entitled to monthly disability compensation payments and continuing medical care from the Veterans Administration (VA).

Medals & Decorations

All POWs are entitled to wear the POW Medal. If they were injured in combat or by their captures they are awarded the Purple Heart. Additionally, they may be submitted for other awards based upon their performance and conduct, such as the Silver Star (for gallentry), or Bronze Star (heroism).

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