In an extensive report for Esquire magazine, the Center for Investigative Reporting's Phil Bronstein interviewed the man identified simply as "the Shooter" about what it was like to put three bullets into Osama bin Laden's head, as well as his struggle to make a living.
As thousands gather at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington,Texas, to pay their last respects to slain Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, the nation's attention is also focused on the plight of another SEAL — the man who killed the most famous terrorist of our time.
In an extensive report written in collaboration with Esquire magazine, the Center for Investigative Reporting's (CIR) Phil Bronstein interviewed the man identified simply as "the Shooter" about what it was like to put three bullets into Osama bin Laden's head, as well as his own uncertain future.
Bronstein's article starts out with the Shooter sitting in the author's backyard worrying about how he's going to pay his bills.
"He's taken monumental risks," the Shooter's father tells Bronstein. "But he's unable to reap any reward."
The Shooter doesn't care about that, telling Bronstein, "I'm not religious, but I always felt I was put on the earth to do something specific. After that mission, I knew what it was."
But the reality is that he won't benefit from the $25 million bounty that the U.S. government had put on bin Laden's head (it's unlikely anyone will) or the scores of books, movies and video games that will be made on him and the rest of his Seal Team 6 Red Squadron members.
The only offer in front of him post-ST6?
"They [SEAL command] told me they could get me a job driving a beer truck in Milwaukee" under a witness-protection-like program, the Shooter tells Bronstein.
Bronstein chronicles all the things the Shooter currently lacks, including health care insurance (he left the service 36 months short of the 20 years needed to qualify), disability benefits and protection for his family from retaliation.
In an emailed statement to MSN News Monday, the Department of Veterans Affairs said that "Taking care of our Nation's Veterans, their families and survivors is our highest priority."
"All combat veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are entitled to receive comprehensive medical care from VA with no co-pay for service-related conditions for five years after the date of their discharge or release," the statement said.
Megan McCloskey, who writes for Stars and Stripes – a blog for veterans – also points out that the article's claim about healthcare is wrong because the Shooter, like every other combat veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is automatically eligible for five years of free healthcare under this benefit.
McCloskey says in her blog that Bronstein stands by his assertion that the government gave the Shooter "nothing" in terms of health care because the Shooter didn't know the VA benefits were available. Esquire has since updated the online version of their story to include details about the availability of benefits for veterans.
CIR's executive director Robert Rosenthal explains in an editor's note that the issues faced by the Shooter upon his re-entry into the civilian world – while exceptional because of his connection to SEAL Team 6 – are similar to what many veterans face when they leave service.
The Kids' Inaugural Concert for President Barack Obama this year celebrated the country's military families with a star-studded performance of song, dance and recorded messages from some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry.
First lady Michelle Obama gave the keynote speech, promising the Obama administration's support for the nation's troops. Both the first lady and Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, spoke about "Joining Forces," an organization they had co-founded to provide assistance to military families.
However, as Bronstein points out in his article, the reality is slightly different.
"I still have the same bills I had in the Navy," the Shooter told Bronstein during an interview in September 2012. However, Bronstein says, he has no money coming in from anywhere.
"I just want to be able to pay all those bills, take care of my kids and work from there," he says. "I'd like to take the things I learned and help other people in any way I can."
In the article, Bronstein asks, "As I watched the Shooter navigate obstacles very different from the ones he faced so expertly in four war zones around the globe, I wondered: Is this how America treats its heroes? The ones President Obama called 'the best of the best'? The ones Vice President Biden called 'the finest warriors in the history of the world'?"
Bronstein's article is part of the Center for Investigative Reporting’s ongoing coverage of the challenges faced by veterans after they leave the military.
Bronstein, who interviewed the Shooter over the course of a year, first met him through mutual friends. In a short video about how he managed to get the story, Bronstein talks about how his stints abroad as a foreign correspondent – including in the Middle East – helped the Shooter to become more comfortable with him during the course of the interview.
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