Esquire: The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden… Is Screwed (Updated)

Last September we wrote about the crisis of uninsured veterans. A national study we helped with found that 1 in 10 veterans are uninsured (for more statistics, see this amazing graphic, excerpted below):

1 in 10 Veterans are uninsured

This was brought home today in an article in Esquire profiling the Navy Seal who shot Osama Bin Laden. Once leaving the service, he became ineligible for government-provided insurance:

 “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 <expletive> yourself.”

The government does provide 180 days of transitional health-care benefits, but the Shooter is eligible only if he agrees to remain on active duty “in a support role,” or become a reservist. Either way, his life would not be his own. Instead, he’ll buy private insurance for $486 a month, but some treatments that relieve his wartime pains, like $120 for weekly chiropractic care, are out-of-pocket. Like many vets, he will have to wait at least eight months to have his disability claims adjudicated. Or even longer. The average wait time nationally is more than nine months, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.

For us, there’s some good news. The study found that Massachusetts has the lowest uninsurance rate among veterans, at 4.3%. Our state Veterans Affairs office has launched a very user friendly website and created outreach programs to ensure that veterans are aware of their benefits and can get assistance navigating a system that is often overwhelming.

If the shooter (who is anonymous in the story, and doesn’t reveal where he lives) were in Massachusetts, he would be eligible for our affordable insurance options. Once the ACA kicks in nationally in 2014, he will likely be able to get federal assistance with his health costs.

Still, there is much more to do, both as a state and nation. The deficiencies in our mental health system, the holes in our public health infrastructure, and the vagaries of coverage will cost us both dollars and human life.

If you would like to join us or learn more about veteran’s benefits or want to get involved with our work on behalf of veterans and families, contact Paul at pwilliams@hcfama.org.
Paul Williams

(UPDATE: A companion story by the Center for Investigative Journalism adds more details:

The Navy SEAL who says he killed Osama bin Laden is unemployed and waiting for disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs. …

But perhaps the Shooter’s most explosive revelation is that nearly six months after leaving the military, he feels abandoned by the government. Physically aching and psychologically wrecked after hundreds of combat missions, he left the military a few years short of the retirement requirement with no pension and no job. …

Like 820,000 other veterans, the Shooter has a disability claim that is stuck in a seemingly interminable backlog at the VA, where the average wait time currently exceeds nine months, based on the agency’s own data.

The VA offers five years of virtually free health care for every veteran honorably discharged after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, even when he or she leaves the military early. But the Shooter told Bronstein that none of the counselors who came to SEAL Command told him that. That coverage also would not extend to his family.

“Families aren’t being cared for,” said Barbara Cohoon, deputy director of government relations for the National Military Family Association.

Her group, based in Virginia, is expected to testify Wednesday before the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee to push for increased access to health care, particularly mental health services, for military families.

“Oftentimes, they lose their support systems the moment a service member leaves the military,” she said.

Nationwide, VA documents show that nearly 681,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans discharged from the military have not sought health care from the VA. According to a study last year from the Urban Institute, 291,000 are uninsured – with neither private health insurance nor VA coverage.

The Shooter says his disability claim is less about the money it would provide than the right to free health care it would bring. While the VA now provides five years of virtually free health care to all honorably discharged Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, they can face bureaucratic nightmares later on if their conditions are not deemed service-connected. …

Even more reason to let vets know about the Mass Vets Advisor website, at www.massvetsadvisor.org.

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