On the Killing of Osama bin Laden and Being a Veteran

Last week, I read an excellent article written by Phil Bronstein of Esquire on the current status of the SEAL Team 6 member that actually killed Osama bin Laden in 2011. The article is long, but well worth the read, especially if you want a “first hand” account of how the raid the killed bin Laden actually occurred. For obvious reason, the SEAL in question remains anonymous, and unlike another guy on the team, has not yet published a book about what happened.

While half the article discusses the raid and the SEAL’s experiences in the Navy, it also talks about his experience since leaving the service. For whatever reason, he retired from the Navy after 16 years, just four years short of earning a pension. While I do not begrudge someone leaving the service at any time, to “blame” his current situation on the lack of benefits after leaving the service is a little out of place. Though he lost his health insurance, his job, and can only receive limited care from the VA like every other veteran, he also could have stayed around the service for another four years in a non-combat role to reach retirement while maintaining his service . Somehow, all of this is a failure of the “system,” and the author tries to make the point that we don’t take care of our “heroes” and that we should do something for people in similar situations.

The point of all this? Shortly after the release of the article, the news cycle picked up on the story, and all the talking heads had an opinion on how we care for our veterans. The talking heads I saw in particular, Fox News –my father’s news choice, not mine — were railing against what they saw as a travesty and started calling for an investigation and all the other bluster that they tend to come up with.

To that, I say pump the breaks. I will admit that the Veteran‘s Affair Administration is not the most efficient organization. I have a friend that had to wait months to get an initial appointment for follow-up treatment to injuries related to his service, and when they finally got around to seeing him, the doctor he needed to see was only available during extremely limited times. But I only blame this in part on the VA itself. The problem is more closely related to the amount of veterans that we have now in this country.

The VA has been broken for a long time. But part of the strain felt on the system is the amount of new veterans that have swelled the rolls in the past 10-12 years. When I joined the Army in 2000, the chances of me becoming a “veteran” were pretty minimal unless I stayed in for 20 years. 9/11 changed all that, and the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the service of millions of Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines in both of these wars helped to swell the veteran ranks. In fact, had I not been mobilized and deployed in year nine of my service, I most likely would have left the military after 10 years without the required service to qualify for veteran.

These swelled rolls definitely have people that require the services provided, but there are also a lot of people that are taking advantage by getting long-term disability payments for something that may not actually be disabling. Because of these types, it slows down the process for everyone that actually needs treatment and other services, including the person that killed bin Laden.

And I guess that is ultimately my point. The people that need services should be able to get them in a timely manner, and this could require a change in the way that the VA processes claims. That reservist that did 6 months in Iraq and is clogging the system trying to get 10% for hearing loss should be further down the list than the SEAL that killed bin Laden and put himself directly in the line on fire on multiple occasions.

But because we have so many more veterans, this probably won’t happen anytime soon, and a backlog will probably continue until years after we are finally out of Afghanistan and every other conflict we are currently fighting in secret around the world. Until then, let’s give the VA the benefit of the doubt.

Until next time…

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