How Long Does a Soldier Have to be MIA Before Designated KIA?

Prisoners of war (POWs) and those missing in action (MIA) share a flag and insignia.

The United States military includes the Air Force, Army, Navy and Marine Corps. While each of these branches has a procedure for conducting memorial services and extending condolences, all follow the same procedures for assigning casualty status.


MIA (missing in action) is a casualty status assigned to active-duty members who have disappeared in the course of performing military service. A continued status of MIA means they have not been identified among the deceased, found or determined to be prisoners of war (POW). A military member can be considered MIA for years. As these individuals have not been declared deceased, their dependent family will continue to receive their benefits, including pay.


To be considered KIA (Killed in Action) a soldier's remains must be positively identified or it must be determined that their remains cannot be recovered (i.e. BNR or Body Not Recovered). If previously MIA, a soldier can be reclassified as KIA if his remains are recovered or investigators conclude he is deceased as a result of performing military service. This does not include soldiers who die as a result of wounds received or old age.

3 Considerations

While a continued MIA status may bring hope to many, the family of some soldiers suffers from the lack of closure. While the KIA status change may be desirable for emotional and psychological reasons, altering this status for these reasons is not possible. Casualty statuses are set by the military branches as a means of determining continued action (such as negotiations for POWs) and benefits for dependents. Family members can choose to stop receiving pay and other benefits of military status by writing to the applicable branch with a request that all future benefits be held in trust for the soldier.

Sylvia Cini has written informative articles for parents and educators since 2009. Her articles appear on various websites. Cini has worked as a mentor, grief counselor, tutor, recreational leader and school volunteer coordinator. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Clark University of Worcester, Massachusetts.