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Medicolegal 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.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1:

Why is the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System involved?

A:

The AFMES performs medicolegal examinations on service members and American citizens who die in a combat zone, certain individuals who die abroad, and individuals who die under exclusive federal jurisdiction within the United States.

Q2:

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

A:

The Armed Forces Medical Examiner, under federal law, has the authority to perform a medicolegal 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 medicolegal examination?

A:

The examination uses scientific means to determine the cause and manner of death, as well as confirm the identity of the deceased.

Q4:

What is the Armed Forces Medical Examiner’s legal authority to perform medicolegal examinations?

A:

Title 10 United States Code, Section 1471 (Forensic Pathology Investigations).

Q5:

What does the medicolegal examination entail?

A:

A medicolegal examination entails reviewing the circumstances of the death, scientifically identifying the decedent, performing an examination which may include 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. Personal effects and any evidence are collected, documented, and photographed before transfer to personal effects or investigative personnel. During the examination, photographs of the decedent are taken, physical characteristics are noted, and any natural disease or trauma is documented. Selected fluids, small sections of organs, and in certain circumstances whole organs are collected for microscopic, toxicological and/or DNA analyses.

Q6:

When will the AFMES perform the medicolegal examination?

A:

Your casualty assistance officer, company representative, investigating agent, or AFMES representative will provide you with the date and location of the medicolegal examination.

Q7:

What are the qualifications of the physician performing the medicolegal examination?

A:

All medical examiners working for the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System 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 medicolegal examination take?

A:

A typical examination usually takes 2-4 hours. Additional time may be needed to transport remains to a suitable facility and for the AFMES personnel to arrive. 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:

Once the examination is complete and the medical examiner signs a release, the remains are turned over to appropriate mortuary services or to the medical treatment facility who will subsequently turn over to mortuary services.

Q10:

When will I know the results of the medicolegal examination?

A:

In most cases a final report will be issued in approximately 6 to 12 weeks.

Q11:

Will the final autopsy report contain pictures of the autopsy?

A:

The final autopsy report will not contain pictures of the autopsy unless specifically requested.

Q12:

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

A:

All information generated by the AFME is provided to the family excluding any information that may compromise a medicolegal investigation or national security.

Q13:

How do I get a copy of the final report?

A:

Attached is an autopsy request form. The form is under Forms and Resources, entitled “Request for Autopsy Report and Supplemental Information” at www.health.mil/afmes. You may submit your request via one of the following:

Email: dha.dover.afmes.mbx.operations@health.mil
Fax: (302) 346-8819
Mail:  Armed Forces Medical Examiner System, Attn: Forensic Pathology Investigations, 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 Privacy Act of 1974, as amended.

Q14:

Does AFMES issue a death certificate following completion of the autopsy?

A:

AFMES issues a death certificate for cases in which the death occurred outside the United States. For all other AFMES cases in which the death occurred within the United States, the state or local authority is responsible for issuing the death certificate.

Q15:

May I talk to the medical examiner?

A:

The staff of the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System is available to discuss the findings with you. If you would like to speak with a medical examiner, we may be reached at (302) 346-8648.

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Last Updated: March 10, 2023
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