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Rear Adm. Sean Pybus, head of Naval Special Warfare Command (Navy)
The "man who killed Osama bin Laden," featured in the March issue of Esquire, knew full-well he was leaving the service short of a retirement and without benefits, the commander of Naval Special Warfare Command has said.
The so-called bin Laden "shooter" made world headlines this week after the story posted online and asserted that the former SEAL was "screwed" by losing his military health insurance benefits when he left service in September 2012.
But, in a newly issued statement, Rear Adm. Sean Pybus said the SEAL in the article knew what he was giving up in leaving service with 16 years, 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."
Even so, Pybus adds, "Naval Special Warfare and the Navy are prepared to help this former service member address health or transition issues, as we would with other former members."
Lt. Cmdr. David McKinney, a spokesman for Naval Speical Warfare Command, would not confirm if the subject of the Esquire article was indeed the SEAL who killed bin Laden.
Pybus had more strong words to say in the wake of the Esquire article.
"I am very disappointed with the few people who use their SEAL cachet for self-serving purposes, particularly through falsehoods and certainly when the safety and security of themselves and their active-duty teammates and families are put at risk," he said. "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. 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."
Because "the Shooter," as he is referred to in the story, is never identified, it's led some to question the article's accuracy. But Bronstein reported 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. Bronstein adds, "The point man is the only one besides the Shooter who could verify the kill shots firsthand, and he did just that to another SEAL I spoke with."
"The Shooter," according to Esquire, had 12 long-term deployments and 30-plus kills.
"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."
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.
Newspaper Stars and Stripes refuted the SEAL's claim in a report also released Feb. 11. 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 military retirement pay, 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."
Sailors and veterans on Navy Times' Scoop Deck blog and Facebook page generally showed little sympathy for the Shooter.
"I just don't understand why you would get out after 16 years without a plan," one commenter said. Another wrote, "We all know you have to serve 20 to get retirement!"
Since the article, the SEAL has visited with lawmakers to discuss veterans benefits.
His meetings included a sit-down with Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who chairs the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee.
Sanders was interested in gaining perspective on how long it takes VA to process disability claims, said Michael Briggs, the senator's press spokesman.
Associates of the Shooter set up the meeting, Briggs said. He declined to say whether the SEAL revealed his true identity.