Correction: The original version of this article said the Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden was uninsured. He lost insurance coverage after leaving the military and now purchases his own plan.
There’s a whole lot to learn from this Esquire profile of the Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden and his rocky transition back to civilian life. One detail though immediately stood out to me: the SEAL, who remains anonymous and only referred to as “the Shooter,” lost his health coverage upon leaving the military.
By early September of last year, the Shooter was out, officially. Retired.
“I left SEALs on Friday,” he said the next time I saw him. It was a little more than thirty-six months before the official retirement requirement of twenty years of service. “My health care for me and my family stopped at midnight Friday night. 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. Go [f--k] yourself.”
As the Esquire story explains, Tricare (the health insurance program that covers military service members and their families) does provide 180 days of transitional health insurance “ but the Shooter is eligible only if he agrees to remain on active duty “in a support role,” or become a reservist.”
Now, the Shooter is purchasing a private health insurance plan for $486 per month, which does not cover some of his treatments (chiropractic care, for example, costs $120 weekly, Esquire reports).
There are lots of military veterans who lose coverage, and don’t buy their own plan. About one in 10 veterans lack insurance coverage, according to the Urban Institute. While the Veterans Health Administration does provide coverage for most veterans it does not cover everyone: eligibility is determined in part by income, injuries sustained in combat and length of service.
The Urban Institute study found that those requirements leave 1.3 million veterans without health care benefits, alongside 0.9 million members of their families.
Related Reading: Five facts about veterans health care.
Update: Stars and Stripes reports “Like every combat veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the former SEAL…is automatically eligible for five years of free healthcare through the Department of Veterans Affairs.” The author, Phil Bronstein, still stands by the story:
[Bronstein] said the assertion that the government gave the SEAL “nothing” in terms of health care is both fair and accurate, because the SEAL didn’t know the VA benefits existed.
“No one ever told him that this is available,” Bronstein said.