Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl could be entitled to about $300,000 in back pay and special compensation following his release as a Taliban prisoner, experts say.
Service members designated by the Defense Department as "captive, missing or missing in action" are entitled to receive back pay and allowances, officials said. Any additional pay and allowances earned such as promotions or special entitlements are not issued until they are officially recovered or classified as deceased.
However, questions remain over how much Bergdahl will receive and how much he is able to keep as he faces potential charges following allegations from his former unit that he willingly left his post. There are also questions about his designation as a Prisoner of War and the special compensation attached to it.
Based on service length and known pay rates, Bergdahl's back pay and hostile fire pay would be about $150,000.
If he is designated as a "Captive or Prisoner of War," Bergdahl could also receive special compensation that would total about $148,000. The $148,000 would include Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH), Basic Allowance for Subsistence (BAS), and station per diem over the past five years. This figure does not include interest these payments would have earned over the past five years.
Bergdahl was initially listed as "Duty Status Whereabouts Unknown" by the Defense Department on June 30, 2009. However, his status was changed three days later to "Missing-Captured" following the release of a Taliban video showing Bergdahl alive.
Army officials have said the service stopped using the POW designation in 2000. However, it is still used on the Army's official benefits website under the "Captive / POW / MIA Entitlements" section. This section defines a soldier as a "captive or POW" as "one who, while engaged in combat under orders of his or her government, is captured by the armed forces of the enemy."
Once this designation is determined, the soldier then qualifies for additional payments such as BAH, BAS and per diem, according to the Army's benefits site. President Obama and Defense Secretary ChucK Hagel have repeatedly referred to Bergdahl as a POW in official statements.
When Military.com contacted the Army to determine if Bergdahl would qualify for this additional Captive or POW pay, Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Alayne Conway only said the Army does not use the term POW anymore, but did not offer additional clarification on the special compensation.
Over the five years Bergdahl remained in captivity, he received two automatic promotions, which raised his basic pay. Although he was slated for a third promotion, Army officials have since said his status will have to be evaluated following his recovery.
Bergdahl is recovering at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany before he returns to the U.S.
Bergdahl could forfeit back pay, allowances, and military compensation and veterans benefits if found guilty on desertion or Absence Without Leave (AWOL) charges. The Army would not say if he has received any compensation since his release form the Taliban.
If he is found guilty of AWOL, he would forfeit all pay he received since he went missing on June 30, 2009, according to the UCMJ. If he is found guilty of desertion, he would forfeit all compensation and be held responsible for the cost of returning to the US.
Army Secretary John McHugh and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey have said the Army has not concluded whether he deserted his unit and will not do so until Army officials can speak to Bergdahl about the circumstances of his capture.
"As for the circumstances of his capture, when he is able to provide them, we'll learn the facts. Like any American, he is innocent until proven guilty," Dempsey said in a statement. "Our Army's leaders will not look away from misconduct if it occurred. In the meantime, we will continue to care for him and his family. Finally, I want to thank those who for almost five years worked to find him, prepared to rescue him, and ultimately put themselves at risk to recover him."
Following reports of his release, groups of soldiers have pushed for the prosecution of Bergdahl highlighting the six soldiers who died allegedly during missions in Afghanistan to find him.
A Military.com survey this week that received over 8,000 respondents found 96 percent of respondents supported the pursuit of a court martial if the prosecution can support charges that he deserted his unit. About 75 percent said he should not receive retroactive compensation for the past five years if he is found guilty.
Gary Solis, a retired Marine judge advocate and military judge, said he would not recommend trying to convict Bergdahl of desertion. He said it would be too difficult to prove "he left with no intent to return."
He said, upon reading the reported facts of Bergdahl's release, it is more likely the Army would pursue Absence Without Leave charges under Article 86 of the UCMJ.
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