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Texas military hospital to treat Bergdahl has long history with POWs

A sign of support of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is seen in Hailey, Idaho June 1, 2014. REUTERS/Patrick Sweeney
A sign of support of Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl is seen in Hailey, Idaho June 1, 2014. REUTERS/Patrick Sweeney

By Jim Forsyth

SAN ANTONIO (Reuters) - The sprawling San Antonio Military Medical Center where freed prisoner of war Bowe Bergdahl will soon make his return to the United States is no stranger to healing the mental wounds of those who have gone through traumatic experiences abroad.

Bergdahl, a U.S. Army sergeant held five years by the Taliban before being freed on May 31, has left a U.S. military hospital in Germany en route to San Antonio, where he will arrive on Friday for further treatment, a Pentagon spokesman said on Thursday.

The initial elation that greeted news of Bergdahl's release from captivity has been tempered after some of Bergdahl's former Army comrades came forward to say they believe he deliberately abandoned his post in Afghanistan. It is not clear if he will face Army disciplinary proceedings.

The hospital is home to the military's "reintegration process," said Lieutenant Colonel Carol McClelland, a spokeswoman for Army South, the command that runs Fort Sam Houston, where the hospital is located.

The facility, with teams of specialists, has been helping returning prisoners of war for decades. Details of Bergdahl's treatment were not made available by the hospital, the largest in-patient hospital in the Department of Defense.

"Our mission includes family reunions, medical care - debriefings are included in it. We have a psychologist who monitors the whole process, Mostly, it is medical care and trying to get the soldier back into normal activities and routines," she said.

She added the hospital was typically the place where returning soldiers could be reunited with family members, but she could not say if Bergdahl would meet his family at the facility. 

"Reintegration is a time-proven process that when successfully executed, provides recovered personnel with the necessary tools to effectively resume normal, stable, professional, family and community activities, with minimum physical and emotional complications," McClelland said.

The San Antonio Military Medical Center was the first stop back in the United States for three American military contractors who were released after being held for more than five years by rebels in Colombia in 2008, and for a contractor released from captivity in Ethiopia in 2007. 

More recently, McClelland said the facility hosted the crew of a military plane that crashed in South America in 2013.

  The hospital was a prime destination for U.S. prisoners of war released from Vietnam in the early 1970s. It treated the deposed Shah of Iran in 1979, which helped prompt an attack on the U.S. Embassy in Tehran a few weeks later.

(Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Edith Honan and Peter Cooney)

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