The Navy SEAL responsible for the death of Osama bin Laden, one of the “most decorated combat veterans of our age,” will receive virtually no assistance transitioning into civilian life.
What does it say about our society when the man who killed Osama bin Laden, declared “the most infamous terrorist in our time,” by former CIA director Leon Panetta, can’t find gainful employment to support himself and his family after leaving the service? According to an interview with the SEAL Team 6 member personally responsible for the death of bin Laden conducted by Phil Bronstein, the executive chair of the Center for Investigative Reporting, and published in Esquire, the Navy SEAL known only as “the Shooter” is now facing a life of uncertainty and struggle.
Back in April, he and some of his SEAL Team 6 colleagues had formed the skeleton of a company to help them transition out of the service… Unlike former SEAL Team 6 member Matt Bissonnette (No Easy Day), they do not rush to write books or step forward publicly, because that violates the code of the “quiet professional.” Someone suggested they might sell customized sunglasses and other accessories special operators often invent and use in the field. It strains credulity that for a commando team leader who never got a single one of his men hurt on a mission, sunglasses would be his best option. And it’s a simple truth that those who have been most exposed to harrowing danger for the longest time during our recent unending wars now find themselves adrift in civilian life, trying desperately to adjust, often scrambling just to make ends meet…
With the focus and precision he’s learned, the Shooter waits and watches for the right way to exit, and adapt. Despite his foggy future, his past is deeply impressive. This is a man who is very pleased about his record of service to his country and has earned the respect of his peers…
But the Shooter will discover soon enough that when he leaves after sixteen years in the Navy, his body filled with scar tissue, arthritis, tendonitis, eye damage, and blown disks, here is what he gets from his employer and a grateful nation:
Nothing. No pension, no health care*, and no protection for himself or his family.
Bronstein, who spoke extensively with the Shooter for over a year, tells of the single offer from SEAL command to drive a beer truck in Milwaukee under an assumed identity, or of the possibility of a security job in the private sector. But as he points out, “many of these guys, including the Shooter, do not want to carry a gun ever again for professional use.” A former SEAL, who has become a sort of mentor to the Shooter, and to other SEALs making the transition into civilian life, told Bronstein “These guys have millions of dollars’ worth of knowledge and training in their heads. All sorts of executive function skills. That shouldn’t go to waste.” Burt it is going to go to waste, as Bronstein points out, “a man with hundreds of successful war missions, one of the most decorated combat veterans of our age, who capped his [16-year] career by terminating bin Laden, has no landing pad in civilian life.”
Unfortunately, not only is that the case for the Shooter, and other members of SEAL Team 6, but also almost every other veteran who leaves the service these days. And although President Obama gave a stirring speech last Veterans Day in which he declared that, “No one who fights for this country overseas should ever have to fight for a job, or a roof over their head, or the care that they have earned when they come home,” more and more retiring veterans are discovering that, other than a minimum-wage job at Wal-Mart or McDonald’s there is nothing truly substantial awaiting them once they are discharged from service. And for these men specifically, these heroes who President Obama labeled “the best of the best,” and Vice President Biden called “the finest warriors in the history of the world,” there is even less available to them.
So I ask you again, what does it say about our society when the men who did the “impossible” and took out Public Enemy #1, who do what they are told without question or expectation of recognition, and do it nearly to perfection, cannot even make ends meet when they leave the service?
Read the full interview here.
*The military does offer 5 years of healthcare that the Shooter is eligible to receive.
Photo: sara biljana/Flickr