The Navy SEAL who killed bin Laden isn’t really “screwed”

February 11, 2013
February 11, 2013

You kill Osama bin Laden. You’re a hero. But you’re also left with…nothing? An Esquire article by Phil Bronstein published today describes the difficulty the guy who evidently shot the bullets that killed Osama bin Laden is having in adjusting to civilian life. After 16 years in the Navy’s most elite unit, the Navy SEALs, a man identified as “The Shooter” left the military, having accomplished what he felt was his life’s purpose. Bronstein writes:

The government does provide 180 days of transitional health-care benefits, but the Shooter is eligible only if he agrees to remain on active duty “in a support role,” or become a reservist. Either way, his life would not be his own. Instead, he’ll buy private insurance for $486 a month, but some treatments that relieve his wartime pains, like $120 for weekly chiropractic care, are out-of-pocket. Like many vets, he will have to wait at least eight months to have his disability claims adjudicated. Or even longer. The average wait time nationally is more than nine months, according to the Center for Investigative Reporting.

Anyone who leaves early also gets no pension, so he is without income. Even if he had stayed in for the full 20, his pension would have been half his base pay: $2,197 a month. The same as a member of the Navy choir.

The article suggests that “the Shooter” has found it hard to find “normal” jobs, fulfilling positions at non-violent companies and not for security contractors. Bronstein alleges that, by poorly preparing Special Operations personnel for daily life, the US government has left its most talented warriors high and dry. They’ve done a special duty to their country and have years of leadership training—why not treat them differently? Why not provide better healthcare options or more training to work in the private sector? Although the healthcare point may be a valid one—benefits for new veterans cut off sharply after they leave service—in the long term, the Shooter will probably do just fine in the workforce.

First off, it’s not clear that better government programs would actually succeed at helping someone like the Shooter find a job. “Unfortunately these programs are staffed—in many or most cases—by people who have spent the majority of their careers in government, and themselves have very little experience in the private sector,” explains Brian Zawikowski, a headhunter at the Lucas Group who works specifically to place veterans. “I don’t know how much more [transition programs] could do, unless you throw a lot of money into them…Then what you have is a ton of contractors come in and essentially take money from the government.”

What’s more, the Shooter’s skills are actually in high demand. It’s just a matter of finding the right job, and maybe moving for the position. His skills are particularly coveted at the nation’s investment banks, where risk (financial, rather than physical) is a part of daily life. “We’re actually strongly pushed to seek out these kind of individuals for positions,” says Kyle Ramkissoon, Principal at IJC Partners, a firm which specializes in finding and placing candidates at hedge funds. “Talk about cool points. You’re a Navy SEAL, man! Think about bringing these guys to a client lunch, the kind of conversations that would ensue.” But those skills are in demand for more than cool points; “Aside from that, it’s the skills these guys have. You can’t learn that,” Ramkissoon adds.

The problem seems to be that business can’t find these highly trained veterans, and the SpecOps veterans don’t know how to make themselves seen by would-be employers. Ramkissoon laments that he can only find a handful of such candidates—or, indeed, veterans at all—in his databases when he’s looking to fill those jobs. “I don’t think they know where to find these jobs. [The government doesn’t] provide these guys with a list of recruiting firms that specialize in placing veterans.”

One of the private-sector companies trying to tackle that problem is ExBellum, a job-hunting service launched in 2012 that caters specifically to SpecOps veterans moving into civilian life. Founded by Judson Kauffman, himself a Special Operations veteran, the service connects employers specifically interested in hiring special forces alumni with a pool of such workers. “You have employers who are really dying for real leadership. You can’t find it at the nation’s top MBA programs,” says Kauffman. For both veterans and would-be employers, “there was really no clear place to go and that’s why we founded this business.” ExBellum combines a job board that works like a SpecOps LinkedIn and services to help vets meet people, hone resumes, and learn business jargon. So far, Kauffman says Special Forces veterans have signed up in droves.

Admittedly, the road from military to civilian life for SEALs like the Shooter is not always straight. Finding a job isn’t the easiest task for anyone entering the workforce, not to mention newcomers unfamiliar with the private sector who may never have put together a resume before. Then again, SpecOps vets are the cream of the crop—highly educated and well-trained—and actually in high demand, so long as they’re willing to be flexible and move for a job or work at learning the business lingo. Although both Kauffman and Zawikowski (also a veteran) were sympathetic with the Shooter’s story—and noted that he will probably face challenges making the transition—both were confident that he’d ultimately end up alright. “I wouldn’t think that a guy like that would have difficulty getting a job,” Zawikowski says.

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