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.

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19 Comments on Living With The Consequences

  1. Lawrence Stewart says:

    I thought much the same thing when I first read about this, Nick. There is a lot more here than has been so widely spread online. Yes, this brave SEAL did a hell of a job and I appreciate it. My father lost his leg in Korea saving his buddies and never expected anything more than the disability benefits he was entitled to. My brother died in Vietnam, and while we mourn him still, we know he volunteered for the Army and volunteered for his second combat tour that claimed his life. It was his choice and it broke our hearts to lose him but we do not blame the government or the Army for his death.

  2. Berni says:

    I agree Nick, I am proud of those who have served and thankful for what they have given up to protect our country. In the end it’s a job and he was treated like anyone else who left a job early. I want to thank you and our fathers and many of our uncles and cousins who have and are serving our country. We are who we are because of our soldiers Thank you !!

  3. Ron Johnson says:

    I agree with you Nick. As a career member (I think he had 16 years in); it is not believable that he did not know he would lose benefits by not serving 20 years. I’m not sure if he had service-connected disabilities. However, I’ve seen several recent instances where the military attempts to push members toward medical separation (instead of medical retirement). Some troops don’t seem to know that medical retirement includes full benefits while separation does not. Unless there is some sort of black mark on your record, a member can usually successfully fight for the medical retirement.

  4. RodI says:

    Well…all of what you have said is true, and yes he made the choices that have led to this predicament, BUT,,,, He is a marked man for having snuffed OBL… Its only a matter of time before the other side of the world figures out who he is and what he was forced to do… He needs some special protection, beyond the ordinary discharge stuff……. JMHO yours may be different…. Rod

  5. Linda Sand says:

    I’m just glad the VA is finally taking some responsibility for Agent Orange caused disabilities. Both of my brothers are taking advantage of that but we all wish they didn’t need to do so. I’m very glad Dave, as a helicopter pilot, was not subject to that. And that his six months early out did not lose his school and home loan benefits since we took advantage of both of those.

  6. Mike Miller says:

    If I had taken out bin Laden, I sure wouldn’t be giving interviews to the media and complaining about this crap to draw attention to myself!

  7. Croft says:

    It isn’t just the military Nick, it is every career out there. You have to understand the rules before you make any drastic change in your status. You have to read the fine print. Yes, the employer has a certain responsibility to offer counselling, caution and advice but the bottom line is, we are responsible for our choices!

  8. Allan says:

    I’ll agree with you on this one Nick. I was given a re-up talk on my 2nd trip to VietNam. The benefits were explained to me but I turned them down for civilian life. The benefits of a career man would be nice but I don’t regret my choice . The VA has been good to me, you just have to follow their procedure. I appreciate what the Seals are doing and the sacrifices they are making but when you get out you are entitled to no more no less than everyone else. Is it fair? Probably not but it is life.

  9. Wayne says:

    I served my 4 year enlistment many decades ago, Nick. When I was getting out, the Air Force offered me a $10,000 tax- free bonus to stay. I wanted out, so I turned them down. I can’t even imagine what that $10,000 would be today if I had saved it. But I chose to leave. Sometimes I’ve regretted not staying…but I’ve never blamed the Air Force for my decision. But, as I face my retirement next year, I wonder what could have been…but, as Mark Twain said years ago, “You pays your money and you takes your choices.”

  10. Jim Walter says:

    The guy was a SEAL, a member of the most elite group in the Navy, if not the entire military. Their physical, psychological, and physical standards are incredibly high. And he’s saying he didn’t know about his benefits? Yeah, sure.

  11. Elaine Loscher says:

    It was a great blog Nick. This guy must have known what the benefits were especially after 16 yrs. He should have stayed the last four years if he wanted the full benefits. My brother in law got out after 14 yrs in the Army to this day he regrets doing it. He does use the military for his medical since his wife works DOD. he was smart in one way he was eligible for his educational benefits and did get his master degree,he has had a problem getting a job. His buy out did not last as long as he thought it would. I think this guy just wants attention.

  12. Chris says:

    Thank you and all vets for your service. I lived through Vietnam while my classmates were dying. My brother was a lucky one, he came home. He volunteered, served proudly and is permanently disabled. He doesn’t blame anyone. If people would only learn to take responsibility for their own actions the world would be a better place.
    Well said, Nick

  13. Randall says:

    I have to say I was In the USAF 6 yrs. and there is not a member that does not know its. 20 yrs
    to retire. Most start counting after their first enlistment is up. I’m sure he could have gone to another field within the service had he tried and finish those last 4 yrs. I say buck up and live with your chose.

  14. Elizabeth says:

    War is terrible, no matter when or how or for what reason. But I do think with the current wars, at least there are groups out there (private ones anyway) trying to help the veterans and their families. I do not recall that happening after my hubby got out in 1975 from his time in the Navy. And the people fighting now are paid much better and with much better benefits than we were given back then, which anyone putting themselves in harms way should at the least, be well paid!! (I feel that about police, firemen and other such workers too!!)

    I do feel concern for this young man you wrote about…I feel the names of those men on that mission should never have been made public!! We live in a world very small now…and they will not be totally safe wherever they choose to live…those countries have plenty of “sleepers” here no doubt…well, easy enough done…just look at how many foreign students come here, their way paid even…well that is another subject!!

  15. Robert Wang says:

    Nick you nailed this one and most Nam era combat vets will concur with your viewppoint.
    The seals are the best of the best and they must have great intellect or they wouldn’t make the cut, this guy knew what he was doing but did it anyway.
    One must live with the consequences of their decisions as this guy is doing. The publicity is to one sided as it usually seems to be these days but those in the know are aware of the “real” story. Great topic Nick.

  16. Kevin H says:

    Nick – Great post. I agree totally. I am not up to date on the situation but based on what you said, he did not do the 20 so he does not deserve the benefit – end of discussion.

    Vets who were injured do not receive one bit more than what they agreed to when they signed on the line. Nor does anyone else.

    If he is crying because he did not get something he did not earn, is this another example of the “I’m entitled” generation?

    He, as are all vets, is “entitled” to exactly what he EARNED. No more, no less. How they served is irrelevant. Are the Medal of Honor recipients getting better post-service benefits? Not that I am aware of.

    This does not sound like any SEAL I’ve ever heard of or known.

    Kevin – USMC ’72 – ’79 “Ooo Rah..”

  17. Dave Mingus says:

    Great post Nick and right on. Well put as usual. He knew what he was doing after 16 yrs of service. He knew what his options were when he became a Seal. Consequences of our actions always follows us! And you are right on about the Nam vets and the way we were treated when we came back. The VA is deffinately a lot better than it ever was also!!

    Thanks for the Blog Nick, and right on!

  18. Bob Alexander says:

    Nick, very good points! This is not being reported in the lame stream media who are not really journalists. The liberal media has an agenda and that is to sour the public on anything military. They will slant any story that they think will further their goal.
    Thank you all vets for your service. May God bless you!

  19. John says:

    From a retired Viet Nam era Marine. I couldn’t have said it better.

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