PITTSFIELD -- In Afghanistan, U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Edward S. Passetto saved the lives of two men in a helicopter crash that killed 16 civilians at Kandahar Airfield in 2009. Risking his life, Passetto ran toward the fiery wreck and pulled the injured men -- two of only five who survived -- to safety.
After coming home to Pittsfield in 2011 after a medical discharge, Passetto was now a veteran battling post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression, according to a fellow Marine and Passetto's own letters and statements.
Passetto spent the last two years "in limbo," struggling with Veterans Affairs over his disabilities claim, he wrote. He had gone into debt, lost jobs, fallen behind on bills, relied on the GI Bill "to survive," and "lost my wife and son over my issues both financially and medically," he wrote.
In an open letter to President Obama, Passetto asked for help because his two-year struggle with the VA system had made him "feel as if I am abandoned by my own country."
Still, Passetto described himself as a "proud veteran."
On Sunday, authorities confirmed that the 28-year-old Pittsfield man's body they found halfway down Monument Mountain in Great Barrington on Saturday morning was Passetto's. His death, apparently, was a suicide.
Preliminary results of the autopsy conducted Monday by Associate Chief Medical Examiner Andrew Sexton indicate the cause of death was a fractured neck, Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless said.
In a 2009 interview about his courageous actions that July day in Kandahar, Passetto told the Yuma (Ariz.) Sun that while he felt good having saved the men's lives, "there have been repercussions."
"I was diagnosed with PTSD, and I have been having nightmares and anxiety attacks about the crash," Passetto told the Sun. "I've been seeking help and I've been taking medication, and now I have it under control."
In his letter to the president, Passetto talked about the long delays associated with his VA disabilities claim, the bureaucracy, and the exams he had taken to accompany his VA claim.
"Mr. President, I have waited more than 730 days for my disability claim to be completed patiently," Passetto wrote.
Passetto's Marine friend from Baltimore, Glenn Campson, said that to his knowledge, Passetto never sent that letter to the White House. Instead, Passetto sent Campson a copy and urged him to share it on Facebook in the hopes that it would go viral.
In an interview with The Eagle on Monday, Campson said he served stateside with Passetto at the Marine base in Yuma. They kept in touch online and over the phone after they left the service in 2011.
"We talked frequently," Campson said.
Often, those discussions centered on veterans issues and the VA bureaucracy, but also on their love of cars -- especially Volkswagens and Audis -- and family, according to Campson. Passetto also enjoyed cycling, Campson said.
They last chatted on Facebook late Friday night.
"I thought everything was good. I knew he was stressed out, but I thought he was taking care of it," Campson said.
On Saturday morning, Campson discovered a Facebook post Passetto had left early in the morning. Campson called it a suicide note.
Meanwhile, authorities on Saturday already were searching Monument Mountain, a popular hiking spot along Route 7 in Great Barrington, after Passetto's brother reported him missing at 5:15 a.m. Great Barrington police reported Saturday that searchers had found a body halfway down the mountain after a five-hour search, but they didn't say who it was.
Great Barrington police did not release Passetto's identity publicly until Sunday afternoon.
Coincidentally, in Sunday's print edition -- which goes to press on Saturday night -- The Eagle published a letter Passetto had sent to the newspaper May 7. In the letter, Passetto wrote about the importance of veterans, Memorial Day, the media's lack of focus on the war and veterans issues, and called for changes to "the waiting game" with the VA.
"I am a proud veteran who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and was medically discharged from active duty in 2011," Passetto wrote. "I returned home, and no one noticed. So I went on with my life, filed my papers with the Veterans Administration [sic] and started the waiting game. The same waiting game hundreds of Berkshire County veterans are struggling through along with millions of vets across America."
Passetto called on the county to "come together and write our congressmen, our senators, to push for the change needed to help every veteran who comes home and the families of those who do not. I feel ashamed at times to be an American who has given seven years of my life to a country that cannot even give five minutes of theirs."
Passetto's mother declined to speak with The Eagle on Monday.
Passetto is survived by a wife in Arizona and a 3-year-old son, according to Campson and Passetto's writings. Campson said Passetto and his wife were estranged.
"His anxiety and depression, nightmares and terrors didn't allow him to live a life that could be shared with someone," Campson said. "After a couple of years, he and his wife drifted apart."
Campson said he recently resolved a lingering disability claim he filed with the VA and could commiserate with Passetto.
As for Passetto, Campson said, "Now that I go back at it and look on Facebook, the signs were all there."
"PTSD help isn't there. And if it's there, it's not made enough known," Campson said. "There should have been that last buffer there for him, and it wasn't."
Campson called on civilians and veterans to "come forward" to ensure returning veterans receive the help and benefits they need.
"We need all of this to get this movement started. I want to call it the 'Passetto movement,' and I want it to be [that] veterans get taken care of," Campson said.
Eagle reporter Dick Lindsay contributed to this report.
To reach Kevin Moran:
or (413) 496-6215.
On Twitter: @iamberkshire
Veterans across the country are having hard times readjusting to civilian life. Read their stories and learn about ways to help here.