Esquire had a huge scoop on Monday, posting online an interview with probably the most famous known-unknown man in America: The Navy SEAL who shot and killed Osama bin Laden. The recently retired SEAL, referred to only as the Shooter, revealed some interesting new details about the harrowing bin Laden raid and the death of the al Qaeda leader. He is also, as the article's author, Phil Bronstein, says in the headline, "screwed," left by the Navy with "no pension, no health care, and no protection for himself or his family." (Watch Bronstein discuss how the Shooter has been forced to live "like a mafia snitch" on NBC's Today above.)
Plenty of critics are taking issue with Bronstein's account. First of all, "no servicemember who does less than 20 years gets a pension, unless he has to medically retire," and the Shooter voluntarily left after 16, says Megan McCloskey at Stars and Stripes. But the bigger flaw in Bronstein's buzzy story is that "the claim about health care is wrong." Like every combat veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the Shooter "is automatically eligible for five years of free healthcare through the Department of Veterans Affairs." Bronstein, who heads up the Center for Investigative Reporting, knows this, but he stands by his story as "both fair and accurate, because the SEAL didn't know the VA benefits existed."
"No one ever told him that this is available," Bronstein tells Stars and Stripes, and he didn't include that detail in the article because "that's a different story." That omission isn't just unfair to the Navy and Veterans Affairs administration, veterans' advocate Brandon Friedman tells McCloskey. "When one veteran hears in a high-profile story that another veteran was denied care, it makes him or her less likely to enroll in the VA system."
This is hardly the first exposé from members of the SEAL Team 6 that took out bin Laden, and generally speaking, "the U.S. Special Operations Command is sick and tired of its elite forces talking to the media about their secretive missions," says Spencer Ackerman at Wired. But, in this case, says Special Ops spokesman Col. Tim Nye, the command "has no emotions on this article one way or the other." There are actually "several command programs designed to ease the adjustment, like its Care Coalition that aids physically injured elite troops," and several Navy programs to ease the transition from military to civilian life.
Whether or not programs are available, the fact that the Shooter has to pay for his own health insurance is still an "explosive revelation," says Aaron Glantz at the Center for Investigative Reporting. It certainly got the attention of senators, who are vowing to look into the long backlog of VA health claims. And if the Shooter didn't know about his five years of free health care, or the special care he is eligible for through Special Forces, he's not alone.
Nationwide, VA documents show that nearly 681,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans discharged from the military have not sought health care from the VA. According to a study last year from the Urban Institute, 291,000 are uninsured — with neither private health insurance nor VA coverage. [CIR]