Was bin Laden’s Killer ‘Screwed’ by the U.S. Government?

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Lightning strikes in the distance behind the compound where Osama bin Laden was killed in an operation by U.S. Navy SEALS on May 4, 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan

So: Did the Navy SEAL who allegedly killed Osama bin Laden get — in the provocative word on the cover of the March issue of Esquire magazine — “screwed” by the U.S. government?

Monday’s story released by Esquire about the unnamed — and now former — SEAL who says he killed bin Laden has been kicking up a lot of dust over his claim that the government has tossed him overboard, just as the U.S. military did with bin Laden’s body.

Bin Laden’s body went into the Indian Ocean, from the deck of the carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson. The Shooter, as the article’s author, Phil Bronstein, refers to the man who claims to have killed bin Laden, is still alive but also met an unhappy ending, at least as far as his 16 years of naval service is concerned:

… the Shooter will discover soon enough that when he leaves after 16 years in the Navy, his body filled with scar tissue, arthritis, tendonitis, eye damage and blown disks, 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.

As veterans’ advocates were quick to point out, that’s not true; he is entitled to five years of free health care from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

Beyond that, anyone who has spent more than a day in uniform knows there is no pension for anyone who leaves the service short of 20 years. That’s one reason some experts have argued for a portable 401(k)-like investment plan for troops that they could fund while in uniform — perhaps with matches from the government — and take with them whenever they leave.

Interestingly, the Esquire story didn’t focus on why the Shooter left the Navy just more than three years shy of becoming eligible for a pension. Most troops beyond 15 years are very interested in making it to 20, as this Battleland piece from last year makes clear.

Stars and Stripes deconstructs the Shooter’s claims in some detail. The military newspaper asked Bronstein about the five years of health care that vets who fought in the post-9/11 wars are entitled to receive:

“No one ever told him that this is available,” Bronstein said.

He said there wasn’t space in the article to explain that the former SEAL’s lack of health care was driven by an ignorance of the benefits to which he is entitled.

“That’s a different story,” Bronstein said in a phone interview with Stars and Stripes about what he omitted from the article.

Veterans were divided on the Shooter’s fate.

“It’s unfortunate that Esquire reported that the Navy SEAL veteran was entitled to ‘no health care’ after his separation,” says Brandon Friedman, an Army vet and former VA official. “That’s clearly not accurate — as he is eligible for at least five years of free VA health care. After five years, it will depend on his disability rating and/or income. Either he didn’t pay attention during his outprocessing briefings or the person briefing him failed to tell him. This is important because such reporting can cause other veterans to also believe they’re not entitled to benefits when, in fact, they are.”

Others don’t see it that way. “So the guy that killed bin Laden gets a whole 5 years of free VA healthcare and still NO Pension or protection,” one posted to Stars and Stripes. “WOW sounds like a great deal! The VA is splitting hairs and the benefits are B.S.”