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American POW History

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Since World War I, more than 142,000 Americans, including 85 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 fifth of America's former POWs since World War I are still living (about 22,641).  More than 90% of living former POWs were captured and interned during World War II.  About 15,367 former POWs are in receipt of compensation for service-connected injuries, diseases, or illnesses.

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.  Subsequent public laws and policy decisions by the Secretary of Veterans Affairs have added additional diagnoses to the list of presumptive conditions.

What Are the Presumptive Conditions for Former POWs?
Today, former POWs are generally entitled to a presumption of service-connection for seven diseases, regardless of the length of captivity, if manifested to a degree of 10 percent or more after discharge or release from active military, naval, or air service.  These diseases are:

  • Psychosis
  • Any of the Anxiety States
  • Dysthymic disorder, or depressive neurosis
  • Post-traumatic osteoarthritis
  • Cold Injury
  • Stroke and Complications
  • Heart Disease and Complications
  • Avitaminosis
  • Beriberi
  • Chronic Dysentery
  • Cirrhosis of the Liver
  • Helminthiasis
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Malnutrition, including associated Optic Atrophy
  • Any other nutritional deficiency
  • Pellagra and any other nutritional deficiency
  • Peptic Ulcer Disease

 

  • Peripheral Neuropathy, except where directly related to infectious causes

How Should a Former POW Apply for VA Compensation?

Are There Medical Benefits for Former POWs?
Yes.  Additionally, the VA health care system affords priority treatment for former POWs.  Those who have a service–connected disability are eligible for VA health care. This includes hospital, nursing home, and outpatient treatment.  Former POWs who do not have a service-connected disability are eligible for VA hospital and nursing home care – without regard to their ability to pay.  They are also eligible for outpatient care on a priority basis – second only to veterans with service-connected disabilities. 

While former POWs are receiving treatment in an approved outpatient treatment program, they are eligible for needed medicines, glasses, hearing aids, or prostheses.  They are also eligible for all needed dental care.  There is no co-payment requirement for former POWs at VA pharmacies.

Are There Benefits for Survivors of Former POWs?

DIC is terminated for a surviving spouse who remarries, but can be resumed if the remarriage ends in death, divorce, or annulment.  However, a surviving spouse who remarries on or after attaining age 57, and on or after December 16, 2003, can continue to receive DIC.

Are There Other Benefits for Former POWs and Their Dependents/Survivors?
The following are other significant VA benefits to which certain veterans may be entitled:  disability pension, medical care, education and training, home loan guaranty, and burial benefits.  Certain disabled veterans may be eligible for vocational rehabilitation and employment services, insurance, clothing allowance, special adapted housing assistance, and specially adapted automobile equipment.  Certain dependents/survivors may be entitled to health care, death pension, education and training, home loan guaranty, and burial in a national cemetery.  See other VA fact sheets on those benefits, or contact VA for more information.

Is Special Assistance Available to Former POWs?
Each VA regional office has a coordinator for former POWs.  Any former POW who needs special assistance should ask to speak to the Former POW Coordinator.  Additional former POW information is available at http://www.vba.va.gov/bln/21/Benefits/POW/index.htm