WASHINGTON - The American Navy SEAL who says he killed Osama bin Laden is unemployed, and complains that that he's been largely abandoned by the U.S. government since leaving the military last fall.
In an interview with Esquire, the former SEAL—identified as "The Shooter" due to what the magazine described as "safety" reasons—said he decided to speak out to both correct the record of the bin Laden mission and to put a spotlight on how some of the U.S. military's highly trained and accomplished soldiers are treated by the government once they return to civilian life.
The Shooter said that he alone killed the terrorist leader, recounting minute details of those brief seconds. As the second Navy SEAL up a staircase, he saw bin Laden inside a room. “For me it was a snapshot of a target ID, definitely him,” he said. “Even in our kill houses where we train, there are targets with his face on them. This was repetition and muscle memory. That’s him, boom, done.”
But the Shooter highlighted the fact 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.
Like 820,000 other veterans, his disability claim is stuck in a seemingly interminable backlog at the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), where the average wait time currently exceeds nine months, based on the agency’s own data.
The speedier special track for Special Forces veterans appears to have eluded him, and so his neck, back and eye injuries remain uncompensated, removing a chance for a modicum of financial stability, the magazine said.
Since a required medical exam in August, which he said he attended in full dress uniform including his gold SEAL Trident and combat awards, the Shooter’s only communication from the DVA has been computer-generated form letters.
“It is our sincere desire to decide your case promptly. However, as we have a great number of claims, action on yours may be delayed,” reads one letter dated Dec. 10. “If we need anything else from you, we will contact you, so there is no need to contact us.”
According to the Shooter’s account of the May 2011 mission, bin Laden stood in front of him, an AK-47 within reach. The terrorist, he said, pushed his youngest wife, Amal, in front of him in the pitch-black room. The Navy SEAL, wearing night-vision goggles, had to raise his gun higher than he expected before shooting three bullets into bin Laden’s forehead at close range.
“He looked confused. And way taller than I was expecting,” the Shooter said.In that moment, the Shooter said he felt a deep inner conflict, about whether he had done the right thing by kiling the world’s most wanted man. “I remember as I watched him breathe out the last part of air, I thought: Is this the best thing I’ve done, or the worst thing I’ve ever done?” he said. “His forehead was gruesome. It was split open in a shape of a V. I could see his brains spilling out over his face. The American public doesn’t want to know what that looks like.”
The Shooter’s account differs from other descriptions of bin Laden’s death and contradicts some statements by Matt Bissonnette, another member of Navy SEAL Team 6. In his book “No Easy Day,” Bissonnette said he stood directly behind the SEAL team’s point man when the point man shot bin Laden.
"I'm not religious," he added. "But I always felt I was put on the earth to do something specific. After that mission, I knew what it was." He also recalled watching CNN's coverage of the first anniversary of bin Laden's death.
"They were saying, 'So now we're taking viewer e-mails. Do you remember where you were when you found out Osama bin Laden was dead?' And I was thinking: Of course I remember. I was in his bedroom looking down at his body." A spokeswoman for Esquire said that the magazine did not pay the SEAL for the interview.