After the former Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden described a distressing personal plight that includes no healthcare for himself and his family, the military newspaper Stars and Stripes reported that the veteran, known only as "The Shooter," actually is eligible for some healthcare benefits, but just may not know it.
In his first ever public interview in the current issue of Esquire magazine, the former SEAL — given the pseudonym for security reasons — said he was not given a pension, healthcare, or protection for himself or his family when he left the military nearly six months ago after killing the world's most-wanted terrorist in the May 2011 raid in Pakistan.
"[SEAL command] told me they could get me a job driving a beer truck in Milwaukee," the Shooter told Esquire's Phil Bronstein. "My healthcare for me and my family stopped. 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 16 years. Go f*** yourself."
In the 15,000-word Esquire story, Bronstein cleared up the question of the Shooter's pension: He was not eligible, Bronstein said, because he was four years short of the 20-year retirement requirement.
However, the assertion that he was denied healthcare is now being challenged by VA officials and military organizations.
According to the Esquire piece, the government provides 180 days of transitional healthcare benefits, but the Shooter was ineligible because he did not agree to remain on active duty in a support role or become a "reservist."
Stars and Stripes' writer Megan McCloskey said that information is wrong
"Like every combat veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the former SEAL is automatically eligible for five years of free healthcare through the Department of Veterans Affairs," McCloskey wrote Monday. "But the story doesn’t mention that."
To many, though the dustup between the two publications reflects a tiny bit of good news, in the context of the overall situation of the former SEAL and his family some limted healthcare benefits are a pittance for the person who actually "got" the world's all-time most wanted man.
Like other members of Seal Team Six, the Shooter is hampered by a policy of confidentiality, which leaves them unable to capitalize on their achievements when finding jobs in civilian life, according to The Independent.
The shooter’s uncle reportedly tried to get him work as a consultant with Electronic Arts, the games developer behind the Medal of Honor series, but was not able to identify him as bin Laden’s killer because of the codes of conduct and secrecy the special forces are expected to follow.
“He’s taken monumental risks,” the shooter’s father told Esquire. “But he’s unable to reap any reward.”
Esquire responded to the Stars and Stripes piece with a follow-up article on Tuesday that argued it had, in fact, included the information about the five free years of healthcare.
"McCloskey's story is entitled, 'Esquire article wrongly claims SEAL who killed bin Laden is denied healthcare' and it is that headline that contains her first factual error, for nowhere in Bronstein's piece does he write that the Shooter was 'denied' healthcare," the rebuttal said. "Now granted, 'The Shooter' is a long story, lots of words to sort through, but McCloskey is wrong here. We refer her to this paragraph deeper in the piece: '…And the VA does offer five years of benefits for specific service-related claims — but it’s not comprehensive and it offers nothing for the Shooter’s family.
But that emphasized sentence did not appear in the original version of the story, Twitchy.com pointed out with help from earlier screen shots of Esquire's website. The information was left out of the initial web story, either by mistake or because the magazine wanted to dramatize the Shooter's story, according to Twitchy.
A note now appears on the Esquire page for the story: "The original version of this story did not include a few sentences that ran in the issue printed last week. We regret the production error."
Bronstein told McCloskey in a phone interview Monday that the Shooter was never told that five years of free healthcare was available to him, but that the writer didn’t have room to expand on that idea in the magazine.
"[Bronstein] said there wasn't space in the article to explain that the former SEAL’s lack of healthcare was driven by an ignorance of the benefits to which he is entitled," McCloskey wrote.
The discrepancies surrounding benefits for veterans is disconcerting to military advocates like Brandon Friedman, who served as an Army infantry officer in Iraq and Afghanistan and used to be a VA public affairs officer.
"Misinformation like this doesn’t help veterans," Friedman told 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."
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