Esquire report on Navy SEAL comes in for criticism

The US government has not denied health insurance to the Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden despite a magazine article that implied otherwise, officials said Wednesday.

In a lengthy profile this week in Esquire magazine, the commando -- whose identity was kept secret -- is portrayed as a neglected hero who must buy private health insurance and struggle to earn income after retiring from a 16-year career in uniform.

But Department of Veterans Affairs officials said the SEAL, referred to as the "Shooter" in the Esquire article, would be eligible for free medical coverage for five years, like other war veterans.

"All combat Veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are entitled to receive comprehensive medical care from VA with no co-pay for service-related conditions for five years after the date of their discharge or release," the department said in a statement.

However, the medical benefits would not cover his family, officials said.

The newspaper Stars and Stripes first questioned the article's reference to the SEAL receiving "no health care" in his retirement, saying the magazine's author, Phil Bronstein, got his facts wrong.

But Esquire stood by the story, saying "nowhere in Bronstein's piece does he write that the Shooter was 'denied' healthcare," and that the SEAL had to purchase insurance for himself and his family in the private market.

That the commando apparently was unaware of the benefits he could apply for was in itself an embarrassment for the government, which has struggled to improve services for veterans who must contend with an often inefficient bureaucracy.

Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also are eligible for education benefits that cover tuition, fees and housing costs.

The article correctly stated that the Navy SEAL receives no pension, as he separated from the military before reaching the threshold of 20 years of service.

But critics of the article said former military officers and members of elite units such as the Navy SEALs are often in high demand from private firms handling security or logistics for government agencies and corporations.