Former Prisoners of War

(Photo: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sergeant Jerry Fleshman)
(Photo: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sergeant Jerry Fleshman)

Veterans who were POWs are eligible for many extra care services. The following is a summary of those extra care services:

Former Prisoners-of-War Overview

It is estimated that more than one-half million Americans were captured and interned as Prisoners of War since the American Revolution. The largest number of captivities occurred during the Civil War when an estimated 220,000 Confederate soldiers were captured by the North and nearly 127,000 Union soldiers, were interned by the South.

Since World War I, more than 142,000 Americans - including 83 women - have been captured and interned as POWs. Not included in this figure are nearly 93,000 Americans who were lost or never recovered. Only one third of America's POWs since World War I are still living (about 40,000). More than 90% of our living POWs were captured and interned during World War II. Almost 16,000 POWs are in receipt of compensation for service-connected injuries, diseases, or illnesses.

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Former Prisoners-of-War Benefit Act

In 1981, Congress passed Public Law 97-37 entitled, "Former Prisoners of War Benefit Act." This law accomplished several things. It established an Advisory Committee on Former Prisoners of War and mandated medical and dental care. It also identified certain diagnoses as presumptive service-connected conditions for former POWs. Other public laws passed since then, and a policy decision by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs in 1993, have added additional diagnoses to the list of presumptive conditions.

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Presumption of Service-Connection for Certain Diseases

Today, former POWs who were interned or detained for at least 30 days are generally entitled to a presumption of service-connection for certain diseases if manifested to a degree of 10 percent or more after discharge or release from active military, naval or air service. These diseases are:

  • Avitaminosis
  • Beriberi, including Beriberi Heart Disease*
  • Chronic Dysentery
  • Dysthymic Disorder, or Depressive Neurosis
  • Helminthiasis
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Malnutrition, including associated Optic Atrophy
  • Organic Residuals of Frostbite
  • Pellagra and any other nutritional deficiency
  • Peptic Ulcer Disease
  • Peripheral Neuropathy, except where directly related to infectious causes
  • Post-Traumatic Osteoarthritis
  • Psychosis
  • Any of the Anxiety States

* Beriberi Heart disease includes Ischemic Heart Disease, (coronary artery disease), for former POWs who suffered during captivity from edema (swelling of the legs or feet), also known as "wet" beriberi.

Note: You can apply for service-connected injuries, diseases, or illnesses by filling out VA Form 21-526, Veterans Application for Compensation or Pension, and mail it to the VA regional office that serves your area or apply online.

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DIC for POWs

On November 30, 1999, the President signed into Law the Veterans Millennium Health Care and Benefits Act, Pub. Law. 106-117, Section 501. A provision of the Law authorizes VA to pay DIC under 38 U.S.C. 1318, to the survivors of former Prisoners of War who died after September 30, 1999, and who were rated totally disabled continuously for a period of not less than one year immediately preceding death for a service-connected disability. This provision is effective November 30, 1999.

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More Information

A POW Coordinator has been designated at each VA regional office who can furnish you information about the benefits and services available to you.

For more information call toll-free 800-827-1000, or visit the VA website.

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