The Army's decision Monday to forward the investigation of Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for possible court-martial means the former prisoner of war will remain on active duty and in legal limbo for months to come.
The Army has not determined whether Bergdahl, who spent five years as a captive under the Taliban, is eligible for the lump-sum back pay that is traditionally provided to prisoners of war who return home. In Bergdahl's case, he could be eligible for more than $200,000.
For now Bergdahl, 28, remains assigned to a desk job at an Army headquarters unit in San Antonio. The Army declined to release any details of the six-month investigation into the the circumstances surrounding his disappearance.
Then-Spc. Bergdahl was accused of leaving his report patrol base alone and intentionally shortly before he was captured by Taliban insurgents in 2009. Legal experts say the allegations suggest charges of desertion could apply.
At the crux of the case is a question of intent: When Bergdahl left his base that night, was he going temporarily AWOL, or was he a intending to desert his unit permanently? A determination that he was a deserter would result in a far more severe punishment.
A prior investigation of Bergdahl's disappearance — conducted in 2009 long before his return — found that some members of his unit believed Bergdahl had left his patrol base alone at night at least once before and returned safely.
In a short statement issued Monday, the Army said the general courts-martial convening authority in the case, Gen. Mark Milley, commanding general of Army Forces Command, will determine "appropriate action," which could range from no further action to a full-blown court-martial.
The case presents a challenge for the Army's leadership, which has to decide whether to punish a soldier who spent five years as a prisoner of war or essentially overlook the allegations of misconduct that surrounded his disappearance.
After five years in captivity, Bergdahl's Taliban captors released him May 31 in a prisoner swap that also freed five Taliban leaders from the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He returned to good health after a short stay at military hospitals in Germany and San Antonio.
Since Bergdahl technically remained on active-duty for his entire captivity, he could be eligible for about $200,000 in back pay. For most of his captivity, Bergdahl's pay was placed into an Army account, where it remains today pending a final resolution of the matter.
If the Army concludes he was a prisoner of war, he would be eligible for far more in additional pays and benefits.
Those questions remain unresolved, Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Alayne Conway said Monday. "The determination on pay and allowances will be made at the Department of the Army level at the appropriate time," she told Military Times.
If Bergdahl is court-martialed, he could ultimately face a punitive discharge, denying him most or all veterans benefits.