Veteran’s hardship shows need for benefits reform

Credit: Tammy Ying/ Junior Artist Credit: Tammy Ying/ Junior Artist
Editorials featured in the Forum section are solely the opinions of their individual authors.

One of the most historical moments of recent years was the killing of Osama bin Laden. Everyone remembers the shooting of the Al Qaeda leader and the global ramifications of this clandestine operation. Nearly two years ago, bin Laden’s death created an international chasm between the United States and Pakistan. The details of his killing, however, have revealed a flaw within our own nation that goes beyond international relations: the subpar treatment of our veterans.

In a recent Esquire interview interview, the U.S. Navy SEAL who killed bin Laden came forward to speak about the military’s support — or lack thereof — for him and his family. Referred to as the “Shooter,” he resigned three years before the 20 years of service required to guarantee retirement benefits such as healthcare and pension. When he asked to be given protection for his family, the military offered to put him in a quasi-witness protection program but offered him no further assistance.

The Shooter’s story of the military’s poor treatment could seem as though he is seeking preferential treatment for being the one to kill bin Laden. People may argue that service members who resign before their terms are over cannot reasonably expect to receive full benefits. Although his decision to resign prematurely in order to protect his family is understandable, that decision carried consequences that were to be expected.

Despite this discrepancy, the story still highlights serious problems within the veterans benefits system.

Every combat veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is entitled to five years of free healthcare after returning from service. No matter when the Shooter resigned, the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) should have given him these benefits. However, he was not informed of this policy. His filed disability claim with the VA has also been in backlog for several months.

The Shooter is not the only victim of a convoluted system; gaining benefits from the VA is rarely simple. Bureaucracy and inefficiency combine to form a mountain of red tape that veterans must wade through. After their service to our country, these loyal men and women should be treated with more consideration. As President Obama said last Veterans Day, “No one who fights for this country overseas should ever have to fight for a job, or a roof over their head.”

While the Shooter’s belief that he deserves the same benefits as someone who has served 20 years may be presumptuous, the problem is that some people who have served their time do not receive their deserved benefits because of how difficult the bureaucracy can be.

There is something seriously wrong with a system that would abandon its constituents, however impersonally. This abandonment is a treatment endured by many service members less notable than the Shooter. They are all people that have risked their lives to protect and serve the United States.

“I just want to be able to pay all those bills, take care of my kids, and work from there,” the Shooter said, and he should be able to.