Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl could have a tax-free $350,000 dropped into his bank account if the current investigation into his disappearance from his base in Afghanistan was not desertion, and if he is deemed to have been a prisoner of war for the five years he was held by Islamic militants, Fox News has learned.
The 28-year-old soldier, for whom the U.S. traded five senior Taliban operatives held at Guantanamo Bay, was set to return to active duty Monday after spending six weeks in medical rehab at Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio.
“Essentially he’ll be working a desk job,” Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren told reporters at the Pentagon Monday.
Bergdahl is due approximately $200,000 in back pay for the time he was in Taliban hands. He would be eligible for another $150,000 if an ongoing probe determines he was a prisoner of war. Both sums could be tax free for Bergdahl, who was promoted from private first class to sergeant during the time he was held.
Bergdahl was moved to the U.S. Army North command on Saturday, shifting from the U.S. Army South command, which had overseen his arrival in the U.S. and reintegration. Under Army North, he will return to work and live in standard military barracks. He is being assigned to the protocol office, which assists soldiers in military procedures and etiquette.
“That’s the worst place to put him. They’re pulling his clearance so I’m not sure what he’s supposed to do,” said one Army official, speaking on the condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to publicly discuss the sergeant’s case.
Bergdahl is now able to leave the base and is escorted by his care team when he does. He recently visited a shopping mall to buy items for his computer and the group was seen at a local restaurant, say people with knowledge of his movements.
Bergdahl still has not spoken to his parents, although he has sent two letters to them at their home in Idaho. Robert and Jani Bergdahl have yet to visit him in Texas, and there are reports of a rift in the family.
A close long-time friend, identified as Kim Harrison, is currently staying in San Antonio and the two meet frequently, say officials.
Under tax rules for military pay, enlisted personnel can exclude active-duty pay earned while serving in a combat zone. And, according to the Department of Defense’s financial management regulation, payments to former captives generally are not taxable if the captive status resulted from the deprivation of personal rights, such as terrorist activity.
Bergdahl’s status as a POW can only be determined by the Secretary of the Army after the completion of the investigation into why he walked off his post in eastern Afghanistan in June 2009. The Pentagon said Monday that the investigation is still continuin, but gave no further details.
According to military officials familiar with his rehabilitation program, Bergdahl now has a lawyer to represent him.
“He appears unconcerned about the Army’s investigation,” said one official. “The investigation has to get moving, as he’s out of the Army soon. He lawyered up so we had to scale back the de-briefing.”
Bergdahl has yet to be questioned about why he abandoned his post. It is unclear when his military service is due to end.
Several soldiers who served with Bergdahl have come forward to say they believe he intentionally deserted his post, and put his fellow soldiers at risk when they went to look for him.
“I think it’s very clear he deserted his post,” former Army Sgt. Evan Buetow told FoxNews.com last week. “He thought about what he was doing, he mailed some things home, he walked away and we have witnesses who saw him walking away. And if you’re walking away in one of the worst, most dangerous areas of Afghanistan without your weapon and gear, I don’t believe you’re planning on coming back.”
Former Army Sgt. Matt Vierkant, a member of Bergdahl’s unit, also told FoxNews.com Bergdahl deserted his unit. He believes the Idaho native should be charged with desertion, not showered with back pay.
“The most important factor isn’t necessarily why he did it or what made him do it,” Vierkant said. “The most important factor is that he did do it — for whatever reason. That’s enough in my mind to do a court-martial, bring him up under several different charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.”