LOS ANGELES—The Navy SEAL who reportedly killed Osama bin Laden met with lawmakers about veterans’ benefits this week after Esquire reported that he didn’t qualify for a pension or family health care and that his disability claim remained unresolved.
The unidentified SEAL retired four years earlier than the Navy’s 20-year threshold that would have guaranteed him a pension and his family lifetime health care. He does, however, qualify for five years of health care for himself.
In the profile, the SEAL said he killed bin Laden with two bullets to the forehead. He also said bin Laden appeared to be using his wife as a shield as he tried to get to a gun.
The SEAL’s disability claim is reportedly caught up in a backlog with about 900,000 veterans who must wait, on average, more than nine months for a decision.
“The fellow who killed Osama bin Laden is one of many people who are having these problems,” Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said Wednesday. He declined to go into detail about meeting the shooter, who has been worried about al-Qaida retaliation.
“He is one of 900,000 and he deserves justice, and those 900,000 deserve justice too,” said Sanders, chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. He plans to hold hearings about the disability backlog, calling it “my highest priority.”
The Center for Investigative Reporting co-published the SEAL’s profile, written by Phil Bronstein, the center’s executive chairman. CIR said on its website that the SEAL it called “the Shooter” met with nine lawmakers from both parties Tuesday, along with a contingent that included Bronstein, representatives of Esquire and the SEAL’s former mentor.
Esquire editor David Granger reported in a blog post that the SEAL told each legislator about the government’s “lack of action” in providing protection for his family and that “the Shooter and the members of the group accompanying him presented the legislators with a three-part proposal for easing the transition out of the military for elite forces that would require no legislation.”
Those requests included a tiered pension plan that would begin after five years of duty, improved transition services for retiring veterans that include 18 months of total family healthcare, and departure pay based on length and type of service, according to Granger.
“It went really well,” the SEAL told Bronstein, who attended the meetings as a journalist, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting. “I think we raised awareness. Now it’s just a question of acting.”
The SEAL left after 16 years because he got “burned out” and no longer got an adrenaline rush from gunfights, he told Bronstein. “I wanted to see my children graduate and get married.”
Bronstein had erroneously reported that the SEAL got “nothing” from the government in retirement. In fact, all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans qualify for five years of health care. Bronstein’s report drew grumbles from officials in the Navy and the Department of Veterans Affairs. By Wednesday, Esquire had corrected its article.
The magazine also dialed back an attack it made in a blog post against a Stars and Stripes reporter who had questioned the story’s health care assertion.
With lawmakers’ attention, the government’s benefits for special forces soldiers falls under a harsh spotlight.
Gawker’s Tom Scocca, who criticized Esquire’s handling and framing of the story, wrote, “It does seem stupid and indefensible that this is our national policy—that after years and years in the most dangerous combat zones, constantly risking physical and mental health, a SEAL should have to clock his full 20, same as a deskbound clerk.”