His change in status, effective Sunday, marks a step forward in his long road to recovery that began May 31, when he was transferred into American hands as part of a controversial prisoner exchange deal.
Sergeant Bergdahl, who had been receiving inpatient treatment at the Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, for almost two weeks, will not be moving off the base, but rather continuing his treatment in-house with stepped-up human contact and exposure to outside events.
Previously, Army psychologists and medics had sequestered Bergdahl in a hospital room, where he lacked access to television or any human contact save with the officials aiding in his recovery.
“His reintegration process continues with exposure to more people and a gradual increase of social interactions," the Army said in a statement. "Debriefings and counseling from Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) psychologists continue to ensure he progresses to the point where he can return to duty."
Army personnel have been monitoring Bergdahl closely since he was released by the Afghan Taliban in late May. In exchange for Bergdahl’s release, the US Army released five Taliban prisoners from captivity in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba – a move that ignited a political firestorm, with many Republicans accusing the Obama administration of weakness in the face of terrorism.
“You can't negotiate with terrorists, and these five guys, just by their titles … [are] arguably the most dangerous of the 149 left in Gitmo,” said Sen. James Inhofe (R) of Oklahoma, on June 3.
This discontent was exacerbated by claims by some soldiers that Bergdahl was a deserter who endangered his comrades – some of whom allegedly died in attempts to rescue him.
A military probe in 2010, one year after Bergdahl’s capture, corroborated assertions that the sergeant left his post intentionally. At the time, that led the military to downgrade efforts to secure his release. Only after US Special Forces killed Osama bin Laden, in May 2011, did officials re-initiate discussions on Bergdahl, reports the Washington Post.
Bergdahl, as of now, is not considered guilty of desertion – a charge that can only be pressed when and if military investigators establish a motive for his actions.
Officials will need to interview Bergdahl as part of this process, but they will not do so until the caretakers in charge of the sergeant’s recovery give the go-ahead, the Army said.
According to the Army Times, these caretakers — who are members of the Personnel Recovery Coordination Cell (PRCC) — have been practicing for Bergdahl’s return every six months since his capture his 2009.
Among the most difficult aspects of reintegration after a long period of captivity, the group says, is regaining control over quotidian aspects of life.
“They’ve been in an environment where they’ve had no control,” said Arwen Consaul, a spokeswoman for the Army, regarding prisoners of war. “They’ve been told what to eat, where to sleep. We’re giving them back control of their lives.”
The process of reuniting with one’s family can be taxing as well, and must be done gradually in phases, Ms. Consaul says. It is not yet clear if Bergdahl has been in contact with his relatives.
“It’s very overwhelming, it’s very emotional, and it’s exhausting for the returnee,” she says. “They need that progression of getting to know their family again.”
Material from the Associated Press was included in this report.