The Navy SEAL who shot Osama bin Laden "IS SCREWED," blares Esquire's new cover. But he's not quite as screwed as Phil Bronstein's much discussed story makes him out to be. Because "the Shooter" quit the military after 16 years of service — instead of retiring after 20 — "here is what he gets from his employer and a grateful nation: Nothing. No pension, no health care, and no protection for himself or his family," Bronstein writes. But that's not a complete picture. As Stars and Stripes' Megan McCloskey points out, like every Iraq and Afghanistan combat veteran, the Shooter automatically gets five years of free health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs. He also qualifies for the G.I. Bill. Military members can sign up for the Thrift Savings Plan, a retirement savings plan like a 401K.
McCloskey asked Bronstein, What about the VA? "No one ever told him that this is available," Bronstein said, adding there wasn't space in the 15,000-word article to explain the Shooter didn't have health care because he didn't know about the benefits he qualified for. But part of the story would seem to contradict this. Bronstein writes:
Like many vets, he will have to wait at least eight months to have his disability claims adjudicated. Or even longer. The average wait time nationally is more than nine months, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.
Who takes so long adjudicating veterans' disability claims? The Department of Veterans Affairs. While the military has long been criticized for not doing enough to help veterans transition into civilian life, when you are processing out of the military, there are classes that explain what your obligations and benefits are. It's called the Transition Assistance Program. Here's a sample sentence from one of the many sites that talk about TAP: "This improved transition program covers employment skills transferability (MOC Crosswalk), financial health and resiliency; it offers a brand new employment workshop, VA eBenefits registration, and much more."
(There are other potential problems in the story. The Shooter talks about how the CIA analyst portrayed in Zero Dark Thirty was "a tough woman," and Bronstein says the Shooter gave her "the magazine from his rifle with all but three lethally spent bullets left in it." But we know the character is a composite — and at least partially based on a dude. And usually the military keeps a pretty tight check on weapons and ammunition. Maybe it's different for special forces?)
Maybe the Shooter didn't take those classes, maybe he slept through them, maybe he has no Navy buddies to help him out on Facebook, maybe when he filed his disability claim, no one told him about his other benefits. The Shooter told Bronstein as much: "I asked if there was some transition from my Tricare to Blue Cross Blue Shield. They said no. You're out of the service, your coverage is over. Thanks for your sixteen years. Go fuck yourself." But this is another moment when it's clear what a small percentage of the population goes to war — and how few of those people write things on the Internet for a living, liberal and conservative alike. Many news sites picked up Bronstein's story and made the health benefits a cause. "Navy SEAL lost health insurance after killing Osama bin Laden," The Washington Post said. "SEAL WHO ALLEGEDLY SHOT AND KILLED BIN LADEN REVEALS STUNNING NEW DETAILS ABOUT THE RAID — AND YOU WON’T BELIEVE HOW HE SAYS THE GOV’T HAS TREATED HIM SINCE" blared The Blaze's headline. Maybe we shouldn't have.
Update: Esquire has posted a defense of its story. The magazine says that when Bronstein writes the Shooter gets "nothing" for his time in the service, he means he gets something, but that something is so little it counts as nothing. Esquire says:
Well, he means precisely that. Because while the Shooter may be eligible for some direct benefits from the VA, his wife and two children are eligible for nothing. Not to get too deeply into the philosophy of insurance and the distribution of risk, but that means that under the best scenario, the Shooter is 1/4 covered, which of course means that he is not covered at all. It would be like having a 1/4 roof during a storm. Your house still fills with water. What good does it do the man if he can go to a government chiropractor for his neck when (heaven forbid) his child could get sick and wipe out the family? It is a simple fact that when your family doesn't have healthcare, you don't have healthcare. Think the Shooter has healthcare? We respectfully suggest that Ms. McCloskey ask his wife.
To state the obvious, if you have health care, you have health care. Esquire's story says after leaving the military, the Shooter gets "Nothing. No pension, no health care, and no protection for himself or his family." That's "no health care," not "no health care for his family." Maybe the Shooter doesn't get enough. But he doesn't get nothing.