Back to Top Skip to main content

Medical-Legal Examinations

We offer you our deepest condolences on the loss of your loved one. Please view the following questions and answers about medical-legal examinations.

Q1:

Why is the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System (AFMES) involved?

A:

The AFMES performs medical-legal examinations on service members and American citizens who die in a combat zone and certain individuals who are killed or die within the United States or abroad. The AFMES positively identifies decedents and issues death certificates that state the cause and manner of death.

Q2:

Under what circumstances would the AFMES conduct a medical-legal examination if an individual died within the United States?

A:

The Armed Forces Medical Examiner, under federal law, has the authority to perform a medical-legal examination when a death occurs under federal jurisdiction. Cases typically involve a violent or unnatural death and/or may be suspicious in nature or possibly involve a threat to the health of the military community.

Q3:

Why is the AFMES performing a medical-legal examination?

A:

The examination helps determine the cause and manner of death as well as confirm the identity of your loved one by scientific means. These investigations can assist in identifying potential public health issues. Please be assured that this examination will be carried out with the utmost dignity and respect.

Q4:

What is the AFME's legal authority to perform medical-legal examinations?

A:

The AFMES legal authority comes from Title 10 United States Code, Section 1471 (Forensic Pathology Investigations).

Q5:

What does the medical-legal examination entail?

A:

A medical-legal examination entails reviewing the circumstances of the death, scientifically identifying the decedent, performing an autopsy and writing a report. The circumstances of the death are provided to the AFMES by the local commanders or investigative agencies such as the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command, U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service, U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Scientific identification is made by performing fingerprint, dental and/or DNA analyses. During the autopsy, photographs of the decedent are taken, physical characteristics are noted and any natural disease or trauma is documented. Selected fluids and small sections of organs are retained for microscopic, toxicological and/or DNA analyses. These body fluids and tissue samples are similar to those taken at a hospital laboratory for evaluation and are treated in the same manner. In rare instances, it is necessary to retain selected whole organs, such as the heart and/or brain, for expert consultation. If this is required, the person authorized to determine disposition (PADD) or next-of-kin (depending on the circumstance) is notified that these organs are being retained by the AFMES and disposition instructions are obtained.

Q6:

When will the AFMES perform the medical-legal examination?

A:

Your casualty assistance officer (CAO), or casualty assistance calls officer (CACO), will obtain the date and location of the medical-legal examination and provide you this information.

Q7:

What are the qualifications of the physician performing the medical legal examination

A:

All medical examiners working for the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner are physicians who are either board-certified in the field of forensic pathology by the American Board of Pathology or work directly under the supervision of a board-certified forensic pathologist.

Q8:

How long does a normal medical-legal examination take?

A:

For cases arriving from overseas, the medical-legal examination usually takes 24 hours from the time the remains arrive at Dover AFB, DE. For cases within the United States, the medical examiner team usually deploys within 24 hours of notification and the examination is usually complete within 24 hours of the arrival of the team at the local facility. If identification is in question, it may take up to five days to complete DNA analysis, assuming a suitable reference is available.

Q9:

What happens after the autopsy is complete?

A:

The AFMES will retain custody of the decedent until they are positively identified and all required paperwork has been received from the PADD or next-of-kin. Once the AFMES has released the decedent, mortuary services are initiated by the Dover AFB Port Mortuary, the respective casualty/mortuary offices, or contract funeral home, depending on the situation.

Q10:

When will I know the results of the medical legal examination?

A:

In most cases a final report will be issued in approximately 6 to 8 weeks. A copy of the final report is available upon request.

Q11:

Will the final autopsy report contain pictures of the autopsy?

A:

The photographs taken at the time of the autopsy are not normally included with the report. These photographs will be provided with the report if specifically requested.

Q12:

Are there any portions of the final autopsy report that are not provided to the family, and if so, why not?

A:

All information generated by the Armed Forces Medical Examiner in connection with the medical-legal examination is available upon request, unless release of said information would compromise a continuing legal investigation into the fatal incident. The autopsy report summarizes all pertinent findings and answers most questions. Additional documents such as toxicology and DNA reports are summarized in the final autopsy report. If you would like copies of these additional documents they will be provided, but we ask for the opportunity to review them with you, either in person or over the telephone.

Q13:

How do I get a copy of the final report?

A:

Submit an Autopsy Request Form to the AFMES via Email, fax it to (302) 346-8767, or mail it to:

Armed Forces Medical Examiner System
Attn: Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner
115 Purple Heart Drive
Dover AFB DE 19902

We value the privacy of you and your loved ones, so we ask that your request for the report be in writing and accompanied by a copy of a government-issued photo ID (e.g.,driver’s license, family member identification card) so that we may comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) of 1996.

Q14:

May I talk to the medical examiner

A:

The staff of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System is available to discuss its findings with you. If you would like to speak with a medical examiner, we may be reached at (302) 346-8648. You may be asked for some personal information so that we may verify your identity, and that of your loved one, in order to protect your privacy and comply with HIPAA regulations.

You also may be interested in...

Commentary: Medicolegal death investigations from a federal viewpoint

Article
11/24/2017
A view of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System facility is shown July 21, 2017, on Dover Air Force Base, Delaware. Pursuant to a Base Relocation and Closure, the new AFMES facility was constructed adjoined with the Charles C. Carson Center for Mortuary Affairs. Prior to the BRAC, AFMES called Rockville, Maryland, home. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Ashlin Federick)

Investigators at AFMES face unique challenges inherent to the military structure and area of responsibility

Recommended Content:

Armed Forces Medical Examiner System | Medical-Legal Examinations
<< < 1 > >> 
Showing results 1 - 1 Page 1 of 1

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing: Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.