The Armed Forces Medical Examiner System performs medical-legal examinations on American service members and civilians who are killed or die in a combat zone, as well as individuals whose deaths occur under federal jurisdiction. The Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, through the medical-legal examination, determines the cause and manner of death, as well as confirms identification of loved ones through scientific means.
Notification of death
Upon receiving news of a service member's death, the primary next of kin or person authorized to direct disposition will receive the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System Frequently Asked Questions About Medical-Legal Examinations document from their assigned casualty assistance officer. By signing the included acknowledgement form, the authorized person acknowledges receipt of the frequently asked questions document and that he or she understands the content. The document includes information about the medical examination process and the time frames within which families can expect to receive information. The casualty assistance officer will also obtain the date and time of the examination and provide the primary next of kin with this information.
The medical-legal examination
All medical examiners working for the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner are physicians who are either board-certified in the field of pathology by the American Board of Pathology or work directly under the supervision of a board-certified forensic pathologist.
The medical-legal examination for overseas deceased arriving at Dover Air Force Base typically takes place within 24 hours upon arrival. Within the continental United States, the medical examiner team usually deploys within 24 hours of notification, and the exam is ordinarily completed within 24 hours of the arrival of the team at the local facility. In cases where identity is in question, examinations may take up to five days to complete DNA analysis.
The AFMES medical-legal examination includes reviewing the circumstances of death, scientifically identifying the decedent, performing an autopsy and writing a thorough report. Proof of identification is achieved using fingerprints, dental records or DNA analysis. All procedures are performed with the utmost dignity and respect.
Once identity is determined, the AFMES issues a death certificate stating the cause and manner of death. A final report will be issued approximately six to eight weeks later, with the goal of the Office of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner being to provide families with the most timely and accurate information possible regarding the handling of their loved ones' remains and the findings of the examination.
The AFMES retains custody of the decedent until positive identification is made and all required paperwork has been received from the person authorized to direct disposition. Once AFMES has completed their investigation and releases the decedent, mortuary services are initiated by the Dover Air Force Base Port Mortuary, the respective casualty/mortuary offices or a contracted funeral home, dependent upon the situation.
To obtain a copy of the autopsy report, authorized persons may submit a request using the AFMES Form 3, "Request for Autopsy Report and Supplemental Information." The staff of the AFMES is also available to discuss their findings with you and can be reached at 302-346-8648.
NOTE: In order to be compliant with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act and personal privacy regulations, you may be required to provide personal information to officially verify your or your loved ones identity.