Following criticism, Esquire maintains bin Laden shooter is ‘screwed’

Center for Investigative Reporting/Esquire | Stars and Stripes | Esquire

Phil Bronstein’s story about the former Navy SEAL who says he shot Osama bin Laden contains a gripping tick-tock of the mission, a long peek into the lives of elite forces and quotes most journalists would crawl over broken glass to get. One from a year after the mission, when the shooter (who isn’t identified), is watching CNN:

“They were saying, ‘So now we’re taking viewer e-mails. Do you remember where you were when you found out Osama bin Laden was dead?’ And I was thinking: Of course I remember. I was in his bedroom looking down at his body.”

The story, which Esquire reported in cooperation with the Center for Investigative Reporting, implies the government hosed this guy when he left.

The government does provide 180 days of transitional health-care benefits, but the Shooter is eligible only if he agrees to remain on active duty “in a support role,” or become a reservist. Either way, his life would not be his own. Instead, he’ll buy private insurance for $486 a month, but some treatments that relieve his wartime pains, like $120 for weekly chiropractic care, are out-of-pocket. 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.

But: “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,” Megan McCloskey writes in Stars and Stripes. Bronstein told her the article is correct because, she writes, “the SEAL didn’t know the VA benefits existed.”

He 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.

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

It is. Many military families have a hell of a time transitioning to civilian life, often because, as the shooter’s wife tells Bronstein, “This is new to us, not having the team.” And CIR has a separate article about the shooter’s disability claim, which is “stuck in a seemingly interminable backlog at the VA, where the average wait time currently exceeds nine months,” as Aaron Glantz writes. Almost 700,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan “have not sought health care from the VA,” Glantz writes.

Esquire’s headline says the man who shot bin Laden is “screwed.” That’s because VA coverage doesn’t extend to the soldier’s family, the magazine argues in a unbylined response to McCloskey.

So if there are people out there, journalists included, who think that the status quo is hunky dory, the government’s approach to these extraordinary veterans is just right or even adequate, and who are too quick to incorrectly call another journalist’s work “wrong” rather than doing their own work on the profound problems of returning veterans, then, as the cover of the magazine says, the man who killed Osama bin Laden truly is screwed.

That seems a fair challenge, even though it’s phrased a little huffily, but it seems like an especially weird knock against a reporter who covers the military. So OK, let’s look at McCloskey’s clips.

Esquire’s written plenty about veterans, so the one-upsmanship could continue. But it’s hard to see why the magazine is attacking McCloskey rather than acknowledging the original story could have explained the shooter’s benefits situation better. Unless this isn’t about vets and is about journalists’ egos, a dismaying thought.

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  • Robert Knilands

    Sounds like an assumption. Try That might help you.

  • James E. Brown Sr

    Why is his story such a big deal? If he wanted to receive additional benefits he could have stayed the 20 years. Should he get some kind of special treatment for doing what he signed-up to do? I don’t think so and why is he going around telling what he did regarding the shooting of Bin Laden? Thought he would have signed a non-discloser agreement just like most of have signed during our military careers. He gets the medical care for five years and knew before separating that his family was not going to receive any medical benefits. So sounds like a lot of crying to me and he’s no better than my daughter who separated and no longer has medical care for her family. She’s also waiting for her VA Claim to be processed and it may take a year or so…just like it took for me to get my claim processed after serving 26 years. I want to thank him for his service and wish him well but he should not receive any special treatment over other veterans who have served.

  • Sean P Carr

    “Something else is going on here.” is a fair statement to make about any long-form piece. There is always something else. Esquire failed to consider that, even in its following statements.

  • Robert Knilands

    “Something else is going on here.” That doesn’t sound like a question to me. Sounds like an assumption without a shred of substance to back it up. You should have someone explain the difference between a question and an assumption.

  • Kevin Hall

    Thank you! I think I’m confusing with Army News, etc.

  • Sean P Carr

    Making assumptions? No, sargeh is asking questions. Like Esquire should have done.

  • Margaret Irish

    For the record: Stars and Stripes is an independent news and information source operating inside the U.S. Department of Defense; it has no affiliation with the Gannett Corporation.

  • Robert Knilands

    You seem to have a lot of assumptions. Any facts to back those up?

  • Kevin Hall

    Stars & Stripes (Gannett, right?) is irresponsible to assert as fact that Shooter is eligible, because they don’t know who Shooter is to judge that. They make assumptions that may or may not be true. And if he has to keep a confidentiality cover, he may be unable to document what he would have to if he were to receive VA care.

    Even if true, I know from experience working with vets (significant, close experience en mass, fwiw) that what is stated on the website is not what many vets receive, whether from unstated loopholes or routine snafus. Often, VA clinics are hours’ drives or bus/train trips away, and require complex paperwork and proofs to be verified before providing service, long wait times for appointments, etc. Transportation fare reimbursement is available only with proved hardship need, but the vet has to have the time and cash up front to get there and wait months for cost reimbursement. Then, quite frankly, the VA doctors too often are not the cream of the crop. I don’t remember the VA having covering chiropractors, either, which is one of his major health expenses.

    Anyway, click on that VA website and tell me you clearly understand the vets’ benefit entitlement. This is a bettter-than-average educated audience, and I doubt anyone here can really understand that mumbo jumbo. I have yet to run into anyone from the VA who cares that it’s not understandable or easily accessible. They treat these vets as annoyance between their coffee and chat breaks. Shooter may be wise not to waste his time and money pursuing VA benefits, especially since he needs to attend to obtaining family benefits.

    That said, I agree Esquire should have included that Shooter MIGHT be VA eligible but didn’t get that memo and needs to insure his whole family. I just don’t think it’s worthy of this controversy. Journalism has much more vital sins to worry about.

  • sargeh

    And Esquire continues to evade a central issue. Why did the shooter jump ship when he had less than four years to go til retirement? Any guy in the military knows that you don’t get those benefits if you don’t serve your twenty. Something else is going on here. What kind of a discharge did he get? Did he bail hoping to make a name and money for himself on his notoriety and it didn’t work out? Let’s not be so keen on dumping on the brass and the political establishment until the shooter or Esquire tells us he real story.

  • M. Jacobs

    It’s staggering that Bronstein would claim not to have room in an article of that length to include a paragraph or two about the benefits available to the Shooter and the Shooter’s lack of knowledge about them. That’s the kind of information that would have been a true public service, spreading the word about what’s available so it’s less likely for vets to miss out on what they’ve earned. But, of course, that useful information — if Bronstein even had it — didn’t fit the theme of the Shooter and other veterans being screwed. If Esquire wants to argue that vets deserve more, that’s great, but let’s start the discussion with all the facts out in the open, like journalists, rather than using half-truths.

  • Nikki K

    This is a poorly written story, by people who are clearly unfamiliar with the VA, military transitioning, and veteran status vs. retiree veteran status. If you don’t retire, then you don’t get the certain benefits. The information is there, and it’s up to the veteran to seek it. Separation benefits are provided to all veterans before becoming a civilian, and any local VA office can provide additional information regarding “entitlements” to veterans and their family members.

    It sounds like they (the shooter and the team) wanted to make a political statement, but it ended up backfiring. Soldiers shoot bad buys everyday in wars. It’s their jobs. They don’t come back crying about what Uncle Sam didn’t do for them. They all go through the same battle for benefits upon separation. If he stayed in 4 more years, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

    The bottom line is the paths have been out there for decades. Benefits information has been out there for ages, and has been well-publicized during the last 3 administrations. Failure to get information and understand the process is the soldiers fault, and I have no sympathy for him or this story, as many soldiers have fought in wars, and killed, and no one is writing about their stories and battles with Uncle Sam.

    While they are living in free housing, enjoying the commissary and all of the other taxpayer sponsored benefits (great DOD schools, allowances for housing, healthcare, child care, etc.) for the spouses sacrifices all as well. As soon as the charity is over, being a civilian is new. You know when you go in the military, and every time you reenlist the ride can end at any time, so it’s the solider (and/or the spouses) responsibility to ALWAYS be prepared for transition. PERIOD!

  • David Higgins

    One of the Most Highly Trained of the Most Select of Individuals in the Military comes back ‘CRAZY’ – So what Chance does the Average Victim of ‘Military Service’ have?

  • JTFloore

    it is obvious those bastards in congress — most of whom never served in the military — always try to do everything on the f*ing cheap. and usually they get away with it no matter who it is or who it hurts. all of ‘em, particularly the ones who did everything they could to avoid the military when their daddies had the power to pull the right strings, should be drafter and be required to serve for, oh, at least a year just to get a taste of what it’s about.