Benefits for 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. Here is a look at some of those special benefits.

It is estimated that more than one-half million Americans have been captured or 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 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.

Former Prisoners-of-War Benefit Act

In 1981, Congress passed Public Law 97-37 entitled, "Former Prisoners of War Benefit Act." Among other things, this law mandated medical and dental care for former POWs. 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.

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 they exist at a degree of 10% or more after discharge. 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.

DIC for Surviving Dependents of Former POWs

On Nov. 30, 1999, Public Law. 106-117 authorized VA to pay Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) to the survivors of former Prisoners of War who died after Sep. 30, 1999. 

More Information

Every VA regional office has a POW Coordinator that can assist former POWs or their family members get the benefits specially available for them.

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

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