Print options

June 13, 2014

Former Prisoner of War Bergdahl Returns to US, Begins Rehabilitation

by Greg Flakus

US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, who spent five years as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan, arrived Friday at an Army medical center in San Antonio, Texas, to begin reintegration treatment. Army officials say he still has not seen his parents and it may take some time before he is ready to speak publicly.
 
Bergdahl is now in a standard hospital room at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, considered one of the top hospitals in the country for treating combat-related conditions. They say he will remain at the medical center in San Antonio until he has recovered from his time in captivity.

They say the 28-year-old Bergdahl has not yet been informed about the controversy surrounding his capture in Afghanistan and his release.

Major General Joseph DiSalvo told reporters that doctors and psychologists will work with Bergdahl on both his physical and mental state.
 
"During his stay here, Sergeant Bergdahl will participate in reintegration, a process that will aim to equip Sergeant Bergdahl with the necessary tools to regain appropriate levels of physical and emotional stability," said DiSalvo.

  ​​For five years, he was held prisoner by the Taliban in Afghanistan and had no opportunity to speak English or to make his own decisions about daily activities. Doctors say the one dietary request he has made so far is for peanut butter.
 
DiSalvo welcomed the soldier to the base after he arrived on an army flight from a base in Germany. He said Bergdahl maintained proper military comportment and spoke only a few words, but did speak in clear English.
 
Army psychologist Colonel Bradley Poppen said part of the program developed for soldiers who have been held captive or suffered other types of isolation consists of reintroducing them to normal levels of personal control.
 
"In captivity your decision to make any choice is fundamentally taken away so we slowly increase their chances to make choices and have a sense of control," said Poppen.
 
The army psychologist also said Bergdahl will be encouraged to tell his story as part of the process, but he said the goal of this therapy has nothing to do with investigating what happened to the soldier in Afghanistan. Some former soldiers who served with him say he walked away from his post in what they describe as desertion.
 
Poppen said Bergdahl has not yet communicated with his parents and that it will be up to him to decide when he is ready to meet them. The Bergdahls say they will not reveal their plans to visit their son in the interest of family privacy.
 
Asked whether Bergdahl suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, Colonel Poppen said there has as yet been no such diagnosis. He said he and the medical team in San Antonio view Bergdahl as a normal, healthy soldier who survived an abnormal event.
 
Poppen also said it is far too early to say how long the integration process will take. "In general, the longer a person's isolation or captivity, the longer the reintegration process would take, but, again, each case truly is different," he said.

A Pentagon statement Friday said the Army will continue its comprehensive review of the circumstances of Bergdahl's disappearance and captivity.

Sergeant Bergdahl was released by the Taliban on May 31 in a swap for five Taliban prisoners who were being held at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The exchange has sparked controversy in the United States partly because of questions about why Bergdahl abandoned his post in 2009 and because there is fear that the released Taliban fighters might engage in terrorism.