Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl was released from captivity Saturday after nearly five years as a prisoner of the Taliban. The American soldier was freed in exchange for five Guantanamo terrorism detainees.
But he won’t be going directly home -- and his family hasn’t spoken to him yet. That’s because he’s undergoing a complicated process of post-captivity reintegration.
The post-captivity reintegration process involves three phases. The program was developed from lessons learned after the release of prisoners of war following the Vietnam War.
Phase I: Recovery
Phase II: Decompression and debriefings (in this case, at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany)
Phase III: Home base -- family reunions, medical care and debriefings (held at Army South in San Antonio)
There is no set timeline for any phase of reintegration. In general, Phase I is designed to be completed quickly. Phase II generally takes three or more days, while Phase III activities are also highly variable.
Capt. Robert Mitchell, a Navy physician, established a five-year program to investigate the long-term effects of captivity on repatriated Vietnam War POWs, helping to collect many important lessons about reintegration that are still in use today.
Captives learn to survive an extremely traumatic ordeal. In doing so, they may engage in mental and physical coping strategies from which they need to be "eased back" into their normal coping routines. A careful decompression period allows the former POW/captive to answer two important questions:
1. What really happened to me?
2. How well did I handle this ordeal?
Families play a critical role in assisting the returnee in gaining control and predictability over their circumstances. The key is to include the family members in the reintegration planning to ensure they understand the benefits of the process. A timeline for family reunions and a return to a home station are developed during Phase II of the reintegration process.