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 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.

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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