Recently there has been a lot of talk about how the Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden is getting screwed out of his benefits by the government, and people are outraged at the way veterans are being treated in this country.
Really? Do you think this is anything new? Ask a Vietnam veteran how he or she got treated when they came home from their war, not only at the hands of the government, but by the American people. The Veterans Administration healthcare system is a good example. In recent years many positive strides have been made and most vets I know, including myself, report good experiences. But it wasn’t always that way. In the past I’ve heard and seen horror stories firsthand.
However, there are two sides to every story and in the case of the SEAL mentioned above, one has to look past the headline grabbing rhetoric and misinformation spread across the social media sphere to get the real story. And it’s a story about consequences, and living with the choices one makes. While I applaud this man’s service, from everything I’ve read, he made some dumb choices and is now complaining about the results of those choices.
One website reported that “When he leaves after sixteen years in the Navy, his body filled with scar tissue, arthritis, tendonitis, eye damage, and blown disks, here is what he gets from his employer and a grateful nation: Nothing. No pension, no health care, and no protection for himself or his family.” Well, that’s not exactly true.
If he is disabled from his military service he is entitled to health care under the VA medical system and quite possibility disability payments, just like every other veteran. And no matter who he happened to kill in the line of duty, that’s exactly what he is, a veteran. As far as I know, we don’t pay our military men and women bounties for who they might slay as part of their job. Millions of American veterans have killed the enemy throughout the history of this nation, and that’s what Osama bin Laden was, an enemy. Yes, a high profile enemy, but still just a man. Anybody who takes a human life is going to have some psychological repercussions, whether the person you killed is the most wanted terrorist in the world, or some poor peasant conscripted into service and told to go fight the enemy.
There is talk about the years he spent away from his family on dangerous missions. My father-in-law and many other veterans I know spent years away from their families too. Maybe their duty wasn’t quite as dangerous, but time lost from your loved ones is still time lost. And nobody forces anyone to join any Special Forces outfit. You have to apply for the position, pass a rigorous background investigation, and endure months of specialized training. Those were choices he made, and he knew when he volunteered for the SEALS that he wasn’t becoming a cook or a truck driver who worked a regular schedule.
The same website that claimed the SEAL was being denied veterans benefits also says that the $60,000 a year he made with his military pay and extra bonuses has stopped coming in. Yeah, that’s what happens when you quit a job. And no, he will not get a retirement or pension, except for any disability benefits that he may be entitled to. No service member who does less than 20 years gets a retirement or pension, unless he or she was medically retired. Those are the rules that apply to every soldier, sailor, Marine, airman, or Coast Guardsman and they are explained to you when you enlist and again when you leave the military. I find the SEAL’s claim that he didn’t know what benefits he was entitled to and that nobody explained them to him to be questionable. And even if nobody did explain things to him, why didn’t he ask?
Nobody made those rules up on the spur of the moment to give this guy the shaft. If he wanted a retirement, he should have stuck it out for the full 20 years just like everybody else. If he was physically or psychologically unable to continue to serve, he is entitled to and should receive the appropriate benefits. Otherwise, you make your choices and you live with what those choices bring.
Please don’t get me wrong, I am not unsympathetic to the plight of America’s combat veterans. I volunteered and did my time proudly. And I’ve met several kids who have served two, three, an even more tours. I cannot imagine what that must be like. In my time in the Army you generally served one twelve month tour in Vietnam unless you volunteered to go back, in most cases. I have known and served with some real heroes, highly decorated soldiers that put their lives on the line many times and went far above the call of duty to get the job done. They wore the decorations and the scars that proved it. Not one of them ever complained about what they had gone through.
At the end of the Vietnam War the military was staging a Reduction In Force (RIF) to downsize to a peacetime situation, and I saw many officers and noncommissioned officers who were given the choice of dropping down in rank and being allowed to remain in uniform, or getting out. There was also a program going around in which some enlisted men were offered early outs, sometimes as much as a year before their enlistments ended. In some cases these early outs came with an agreement to relinquish their VA educational and home loan benefits because they did not serve their full enlistment.
I always tried to talk the young soldiers in my platoon out of doing this, but with little success. All they could see was the opportunity to leave the Army early. It didn’t matter that jobs were scarce on the outside and that our duty at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point was among the best the Army had to offer. They were quick to sign on the dotted line. And since then I’ve listened to some of those same guys complaining about getting screwed out of their benefits.
No, you got what you agreed to, just like this brave SEAL is now getting after leaving the Navy four years short of full retirement. I’m sorry the choices they made came with consequences they don’t like, but nobody held a gun to their head and forced them to do anything. Thank you for your service, now stop whining.
Tags: airman, America’s combat veterans, American veterans, arthritis, Coast Guardsman, disabled vateran, eye damage, Marine, military retirement, Navy, Navy SEAL, Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin, Osama Bin Laden, sailor, soldier, Special Forces, tendonitis, U.S. Military Academy at West Point, VA educational benefits, VA medical system, Veterans Administration healthcare system, veterans benefits, Vietnam veteran, Vietnam War