Published: 11 February, 2013, 21:38 Edited: 11 February, 2013, 21:38
The US Navy SEAL who personally shot to death former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden says he has been neglected by the US government. The poverty-stricken ex-commando is now struggling to feed his family and pay for healthcare.
Despite killing America’s most wanted man, the US Navy SEAL referred to only as “the Shooter” has transitioned back to a civilian life plagued by poverty. The Shooter, who remains anonymous, retired from the SEALs in September 2012, thirty-six months before the 20-year requirement for retirement benefits.
And the government makes no exceptions when it comes to retirement benefits – not even for one of the Americans responsible for striking the most crushing blow against al-Qaeda.
“What is [hard] to understand is that a man with hundreds of successful war missions, one of the most decorated combat veterans of our age, who capped his career by terminating bin Laden, has no landing pad in civilian life,” writes Phil Bronstein, Executive Chair of the Center for Investigative Reporting, for Esquire.
Aside from remaining anonymous and therefore lacking recognition from the American public, the US government appears to have forgotten the Shooter’s significance in the raid that killed the most wanted terrorist. Without a pension, healthcare, or any sort of government protection, the Shooter has been left in the dark by the agency he dedicated his life to.
Unsympathetically, he was told to look for a job driving a truck to make enough money to scrape by.
“[SEAL command] told me they could get me a job driving a beer truck in Milwaukee,” the Shooter said. Such a job would be a substantial downgrade from both his status and estimated $54,000 salary as a Navy SEAL.
Left without retirement benefits, the Shooter is now purchasing a private health insurance plan for $486 per month, which provides minimal coverage and fails to cover his chiropractic care.
“My health care for me and my family stopped,” he said. “I asked if there was some transition from my Tricare to Blue Cross Blue Shield. They said no. You’re out of service, your coverage is over. Thanks for your sixteen years. Go f*ck yourself.”
The US government provides 18- days of transitional healthcare benefits, but only those who agree to remain on active duty or become a “reservist”. And it will take at least eight months before he can make requests for disability payments. Although the US government put a $25 million bounty on bin Laden, no one has ever collected the money and the Shooter now lives in poverty.
Finding another job is not so easy for the retired SEAL: due to his anonymity, he cannot disclose his work experience to other employers. Even though friends and family members put in recommendations for him with employers they know, they cannot tell anyone that the Shooter was part of SEAL Team 6.
The SEALs struggles contradict the statement US President Barack Obama made on Veteran’s Day about those who serve the country.
“No one who fights for this country overseas should ever have to fight for a job,” Obama said. “Or a roof over their head, or the care that they have earned when they come home.”
But the Shooter is fighting – financially, physically and emotionally. With a body full of scars, arthritis, tendonitis, eye damage and blown disks, the SEAL is in desperate need of medical care.
“Is this how America treats its heroes?” Bronstein writes. “The ones President Obama called ‘the best of the best’? The ones Vice-President Biden called ‘the finest warriors in the history of the world?”
And the Shooter is just one of about 1.3 million veterans – about one in 10 – and 0.9 million family members who are currently uninsured, despite their years of service.
“[Bin Laden] crumpled onto the floor in front of his bed. He was dead. I watched him take his last breaths,” the Shooter recalls. “And I remember as I watched him breathe out the last part of air, I thought: Is this the best thing I’ve ever done, or the worst thing I’ve ever done?”
The administration considers bin Laden’s death one of its greatest achievements. But for the Shooter, life has become a struggle.