Newspaper article International New York Times

Long Road Home for Returning G.I. ; Taliban Captive Faces Multistep Recovery Plan Focused on Counseling

Newspaper article International New York Times

Long Road Home for Returning G.I. ; Taliban Captive Faces Multistep Recovery Plan Focused on Counseling

Article excerpt

Military officials said that the recovery of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl would be a multistep process, beginning with treatment in Germany before further care in the United States.

For Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the road home to Idaho began with a brief helicopter ride from the rugged frontier of eastern Afghanistan to Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul. His return to anything close to a normal life will take much longer.

After nearly five years in captivity -- the lone American prisoner of war in Afghanistan, held by Taliban fighters in utter isolation and deprivation -- Sergeant Bergdahl is physically weakened, military officials said, and will need to undergo a thorough psychological examination.

His recovery, they said, will be a multistep process, beginning with medical treatment and initial counseling at an American military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, then by longer-term therapy at a military medical center in San Antonio before culminating in a carefully managed homecoming in Hailey, Idaho.

Even then, Sergeant Bergdahl, 28, will probably need lengthy counseling to help him deal with the trauma of his years as a prisoner of war and to adjust to his new life, according to experts in long-term captivity. How fast or fully he recovers, they said, is impossible to predict.

"Bowe's been gone so long that it's going to be so difficult to come back," said his father, Robert Bergdahl, at a news conference in Idaho. He likened it to a deep-sea diver decompressing before returning to the surface. "If he comes up too fast," he said, "it could kill him."

For now, Mr. Bergdahl can speak to his son only indirectly and from a distance, as he did via television cameras at the news conference. Sergeant Bergdahl is cloistered at the Landstuhl hospital, which sits on a pine-scented hilltop in southwestern Germany -- away from television, the Internet and other outside intrusions. Doctors will decide when he is ready to reunite with his family.

Interviews with experts on captivity, and with an American who was imprisoned for nearly a year in Iraq, suggest Sergeant Bergdahl could face as much trouble adjusting to the rhythms of ordinary life as getting over what he experienced in Afghanistan.

"I tell people it's like a funnel," said Roy Hallums, a former contractor who was imprisoned in 2004 in a tiny room under a house in Baghdad for 311 days. "You're at the small end of the funnel for so long, and then suddenly the world opens up. It takes time to get used to it."

Little things, like going to a bustling grocery store, were too much for Mr. Hallums for the first few weeks after he returned to the United States. After eight months of physical and psychological therapy, he felt largely recovered, he said, though he noted that throughout the recovery, he underestimated the trauma he had sustained.

On Saturday, speaking to Sergeant Bergdahl's parents at the White House, President Obama said "he'd been to Landstuhl and seen firsthand that the facilities and personnel were first rate and Bowe would get the best possible care," a senior administration official said. …

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