The former Navy SEAL who says he shot Usama bin Laden reportedly knew he was leaving the service well short of a retirement and without benefits, according to the commander of Naval Special Warfare.
The “man who killed" bin Laden — featured in the March issue of Esquire — made headlines earlier this week when the former SEAL asserted was “screwed” and abandoned by the military after losing his military health insurance benefits upon leaving the service in September.
But Rear Adm. Sean Pybus told Navy Times the SEAL knew what he was giving up in leaving the service with 16 years of service, shy of the 20-year retirement mark.
“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,” Pybus said. “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.”
Navy officials are nonetheless “prepared to help this former service member address health or transition issues, as we would with other former members,” Pybus said.
Lt. Cmdr. David McKinney, a spokesman for Naval Special Warfare Command, declined to confirm if the subject of the Esquire article was indeed the SEAL who killed bin Laden in May 2011.
Pybus said he was disappointed with individuals who use their SEAL background for “self-serving purposes,” especially through purported falsehoods.
“Most of our former or retired NSW members find a suitable second career without compromising the ideals of their active service — honor, courage and commitment,” he said. “Most of our veterans with physical or mental health issues get some degree of health care, and we are actively pursuing even better options in this realm. I think we’re doing the things that you would expect from a dedicated, disciplined and trusted force.”
Since the “shooter” is never identified in Phil Bronstein’s 15,000-word piece, some have questioned the article’s accuracy. But Bronstein has said he properly vetted the SEAL.
“Enough people connected to the SEALs and the bin Laden mission have confirmed for me that the Shooter was the ‘number two’ behind the raid’s point man going up the stairs to bin Laden’s third-floor residence,” the article reads.
The SEAL, according to Esquire, had 12 long-term deployments and 30-plus kills. He told Bronstein he has lost some vision and was planning to buy private insurance for $486 a month but will have to pay out of pocket for some chiropractic care.
“My health care for me and my family stopped at midnight Friday night,” he said in the story, referring to his end of service. “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 sixteen years.”
Stars and Stripes refuted the SEAL’s claim in a Feb. 11 report. All combat veterans, including the SEAL, are eligible for five years of free health care through the Veterans Affairs Department. And no service member who does less than 20 years gets a pension, unless he has to medically retire.
Bronstein told Stripes his story is fair because the SEAL was unaware of the VA benefits at the time of the interview. Esquire later revised its story, adding a correction that reads: “A previous version of this story misstated the extent of the five-year health care benefits offered to cover veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”