Esquire’s SEAL story questioned by military newspaper

Esquire's upcoming cover story profiling the U.S. Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden is being questioned by critics who say the magazine falsely claims the former SEAL Team 6 member has been denied health care since leaving the military.

In the 15,000-word story (“The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden ... Is Screwed”) posted online Monday, writer Phil Bronstein states that the SEAL has been given "nothing. ... No pension, no health care, and no protection for himself or his family.”

But according to Stars and Stripes magazine, the claim about health care is wrong:

Like every combat veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the former SEAL, who is identified in the story only as “the Shooter”, is automatically eligible for five years of free health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Stars and Stripes contacted Bronstein, who told the paper that no one told the SEAL he was eligible for health care benefits. He also said that there wasn’t enough space in the Esquire article to, as Stars and Stripes put it, "explain that the former SEAL’s lack of health care was driven by an ignorance of the benefits to which he is entitled."

In the Esquire piece, Bronstein also states that the SEAL was not given a pension. But according to the Stars and Stripes piece, no officer who serves less than 20 years gets a pension "unless he has to medically retire."

“Misinformation like this doesn’t help veterans,” Brandon Friedman, a former VA public affairs officer, told Stars and Stripes. “When one veteran hears in a high-profile story that another veteran was denied care, it makes him or her less likely to enroll in the VA system.”

Esquire posted a lengthy rebuttal of Stars and Stripes on its website, taking issue with the newspaper's headline, "Esquire article wrongly claims SEAL who killed bin Laden is denied healthcare":

Nowhere in Bronstein's piece does he write that the Shooter was "denied" healthcare. Rather, 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 that they had when they worked for the government, and that this transition is an abrupt one.

The magazine also rebutted Stars and Stripes' claim that all Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are automatically eligible for five years of free health care:

There is nothing automatic about benefits from the VA. Sources from the VA tell us that only 40% of eligible veterans use the benefits, because, as was the case with the Shooter, they aren't aware the benefits exist.

Esquire also noted that Bronstein did mention that "VA does offer five years of benefits for specific service-related claims," but that they are "not comprehensive" and do not cover "the Shooter’s family."

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