Navy not guilty for Bin Laden shooter’s civilian woes

by Kenneth Leonard

It’s been almost two years since President Barack Obama announced the death of Osama bin Laden. The mission to eliminate the al-Qaida leader has been the subject of highly romanticized speculation, and members of the CIA and Navy SEAL Team 6 have been portrayed in the Academy Award-winning movie “Zero Dark Thirty.”

Cut to this month, when Esquire magazine published a 15,000-word article by Phil Bronstein titled “The Shooter” alleging the SEAL who killed bin Laden, left the Navy and was essentially abandoned by the Department of Defense after 16 years of faithful and heroic service.

The piece makes several claims about the life of the alleged shooter, who remains unidentified in the story, claiming he is “screwed” and that the Navy is providing the shooter with “Nothing. No pension, no health care for his wife and kids, and no protection for himself or his family.”

Taken at face value, it would appear the Navy has used up the shooter and discarded him, with the DOD offering nothing to him in exchange for his service. This is what the Esquire article wants you to believe, but it’s simply not true.

First and foremost, a career in any branch of the military is a job. It’s a tough job, but a job with numerous benefits, both during and after one’s time in the service. Bronstein isn’t concerned with the benefits available during one’s time in the military as much as he is critical of how veterans are treated after they get out. Notice that I said “get out” and not “retire.” If someone retires from the Navy, they’re entitled to lifelong benefits, including a pension and health care.

Some may wonder what the difference is between retiring and simply getting out. It all comes down to how much time is spent in the service. To reach retirement, sailors, such as the alleged bin Laden shooter, are required to stay in the Navy for 20 years. In the Navy, this is common knowledge. The subject of Bronstein’s story knew he wouldn’t be entitled to a full benefits package if he got out before hitting the 20-year mark, but he got out anyway, and now he is whining about it on a national stage.

Since Bronstein’s article was published, numerous sources have emerged to critique the misinformation it contains. Specifically, many people have pointed out Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are entitled to five years of post-separation health care, courtesy of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Even high-ranking Navy officials have commented on the shooter’s situation.

“Concerning recent writing and reporting on ‘The Shooter’ and his alleged situation, this former SEAL made a deliberate and informed decision to leave the Navy several years short of retirement status,” commander of the Naval Special Warfare Command Rear Adm. Sean Pybus said in a statement leaked to CNN.

“Months ahead of his separation, he was counseled on status and benefits and provided with options to continue his career until retirement eligible. Claims to the contrary in these matters are false. That said, Naval Special Warfare and the Navy are prepared to help this former service member address health or transition issues, as we would with other former members,” Pybus said.

The Esquire article fails to mention the extensive mandatory counseling process service members go through during their separation from the military. Before veterans venture into civilian territory, they are made aware of the benefits available to them, including various insurance programs, job placement services, education benefits and much more. Countless government and civilian programs, both nationally and locally based, exist to assist veterans as they transition into civilian life.

Yet here is the alleged shooter complaining about his lack of a pension. Bronstein has gone on PBS and said the shooter is forced to live like a “mafia snitch” after getting out of the Navy. It seems as though Bronstein and the shooter—not to mention the multitudes of good-intentioned but ignorant sympathizers—have forgotten that the Navy is an organization comprised entirely of volunteers. Also, the SEALs are a notoriously difficult group to get into and everyone knows their jobs are dangerous and often thankless. For a long time, SEAL Team 6 has been a group of self-described “quiet professionals” who do a tough job knowing they won’t become wealthy or famous as a result of the things they do. Well, most members of SEAL Team 6, apparently.

Bronstein’s article makes serious implications about how the U.S. treats its veterans and, thankfully, his assertions simply aren’t grounded in reality. The truth is, there are programs available to help outgoing veterans. There are options for people transitioning from life in the military to life as a civilian.

I hope the alleged shooter isn’t really the guy who took out bin Laden. I hope the real shooter is a guy who takes responsibility for his choice to get out of the Navy before meeting the requirements that would entitle him to full benefits.

Frankly, the shooter is responsible for his own well-being. The self-pitying tone of the Esquire story is an embarrassment to sailor, soldiers, Marines and airmen everywhere. Fortunately, the alleged shooter’s attitude is far from indicative of the spirit of most veterans.