Patricia Passetto knows as well as anyone that it is possible to support the men and women of the military while being frustrated and infuriated with the military bureaucracy set up to support those men and women. A Lee resident, she served in the Navy and her late husband, Michael J. Passetto, served with the Army. Their son, 28-year-old Marine Corps veteran Edward S. Passetto, died a little more than a week ago in an apparent suicide following struggles with post-traumatic stress disorder compounded by his dealings with an unresponsive U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Bringing change to the VA is her cause, and it should be supported by Berkshire residents and Americans.
The symptoms of PTSD, depression and anxiety among them, are difficult enough to deal with, but Mr. Passetto, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, also had to deal with increasing debt and domestic struggles while spending two years trying to get his disability claim through the Boston office of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Mr. Passetto performed a service for veterans by chronicling the specifics of that struggle in a letter to The Berkshire Eagle that ran a week ago today and in an open letter to President Obama.
According to VA data published on March 28 of this year, there were a total of 865,989 claims pending in the Veterans Benefit Administration, and the total number of backlogged claims pending for more than 125 days was 606,007. That large and lengthy a backlog is indefensible, and the president and Congress must find out what caused it -- whether it is bureaucratic inertia, inadequate staffing, a combination of both or other factors -- and fix it. Stunningly, the largest percentage of veterans whose claims are backlogged (38 percent), are veterans of Vietnam, which means that some of them may have been fighting the VA bureaucracy for about 40 years. That fate cannot be allowed to befall veterans who have returned or will be returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mrs. Passetto told The Eagle last week that the IRS -- which is held in particularly low regard these days -- levied her son's disabilities claim for back taxes he owed on unemployment since he was medically discharged and returned home in March of 2011. This happened while Mr. Passetto was trying to get the claim approved. The VA should be able to act more quickly in providing funds from a legitimate disabilities claim than the IRS acts in tying up that claim in the pursuit of taxes from a disabled veteran.
We can only imagine what those backlogged veterans thought when it was revealed last month that the CIA had delivered millions of dollars in cash in grocery bags and suitcases to corrupt Afghan president Hamid Karzai in a failed decadelong attempt to buy his support and the support of warlords allied with him. There is little about America's war policy that is not muddled and counter-productive, and that extends to the treatment of veterans charged with defending the likes of Mr. Karzai and his government. Eventually we will be out of Afghanistan, but the veterans of that war and others will still need help for years to come. Along with Mrs. Passetto, we must all do whatever possible to assure that they receive it.