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Man who shot Bin Laden insurance limbo sparks media clash

Published time: February 13, 2013 14:14
Edited time: February 13, 2013 18:14
AFP Photo / Martin Bureau

AFP Photo / Martin Bureau

Esquire magazine's story about the US Navy SEAL who shot Osama bin Laden has become a battle of publications. The military newspaper Stars and Stripes disputes his hardships during transition into civilian life described in the article.

The newspaper accuses Esquire of not providing enough details and implies ‘the Shooter’ is partly to blame for his predicament. The man who remains anonymous retired from the SEALs in September 2012, thirty-six months before the 20-year requirement for retirement benefits, and is now struggling to pay for healthcare and feed his family.

The article spurred on an indignant response from Stars and Stripes which is partially subsidized by the US Department of Defense.

The Esquire article wrongly claims the SEAL who killed bin Laden is denied healthcare,” states the headline of the piece, spurring a whirlwind of discussion on twitter and on its own website.

The newspaper writes that the original piece in Esquire by Phil Bronstein is “wrong” and doesn’t mention the fact that “like every combat veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the former SEAL… is automatically eligible for five years of free healthcare though the Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Stars and Stripes quotes their phone interview with Bernstein in which the writer stands by the story, saying his report in Esquire was fair and accurate, since no one ever told ‘the Shooter’ about the existence of VA (Veterans Affairs) benefits.

The article in Stripes generated a flurry of discussion, especially on twitter, where a former public affairs officer (Brandon Friedman, @BFriedmanDC) for the VA suggested ‘the Shooter’ simply doesn’t know about the affairs, stating “either he paid no attention during his separation briefings, or the folks out processing him failed”.

The increasing scrutiny did not, however, faze Esquire editors, who have come out with their own response to the article in Stars and Stripes.

The magazine acknowledged the fact they have misstated the extent of the healthcare coverage provided by VA to veterans of Afghan and Iraq wars, but underlined that coverage does not cover the veterans’ families. Therefore, ‘the Shooter’ still has to pay for his wife’s and children’s coverage out of his pocket.

It went on to explain much of the detail concerning the coverage was not published in the online version of Esquire, though was presented in the printed piece.

The response to Stars and Stripes goes on to claim their headline contains a factual error, for “nowhere in Bronstein's piece does he write that ‘the Shooter’ was "denied" healthcare”. Esquire explains further that “what Bronstein's piece properly establishes is that once the Shooter and his colleagues separate from the service, they must go into the private market to buy insurance to match the coverage for themselves and their families”.

It also mentions that much of Stripes’ retort focused on the omission of the details of the Veterans’ coverage – again, the very details which were published in the print version of the magazine.

Esquire delves into the issue further, questioning the use of word “automatically” in reference to ‘the Shooter’s’ eligibility for the five-year healthcare coverage. The publication refers to their source in the VA, who states nearly 40 per cent of retiring veterans do not use this benefit, as they also do not know about it. Furthermore, in order to claim disability benefits, ‘the Shooter’, just like any other veteran, will have to wait 9 months on average for the paperwork to go through.

The magazine then ends its retort, seemingly implying Stars and Stripes have not done enough research before lashing out at their original piece on ‘the Shooter’, who, just like hundreds of other veterans returning from active combat duty, find themselves in total dark about what they can – and cannot – expect from the government for their service.