Our Opinion: What is owed vets, and Edward Passetto
The flag-waving and speech-making that erupt when America goes to war evaporate as the war drags on and fades into the background of life in the United States. Similarly, the soldiers who fight those wars -- particularly the recent wars that don't end with victory parades -- fade into the background as well upon their return home. The government that is so quick to send them to war is far less responsive when it comes to providing them the help they need to adjust to civilian society. Some returning veterans find that they can no longer keep suffering and waiting.
Edward S. Passetto of Pittsfield was a U.S. Marine for seven years, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2009 in Afghanistan, he rushed toward rather than away from a fiery helicopter crash that killed 16 civilians and pulled two to safety. Two years ago, he returned home afflicted, like so many returning veterans, with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the symptoms of which include depression and anxiety. In eloquent letters, he chronicled his frustration in seeking help from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs while his marriage unraveled, he lost jobs and fell into debt. One of those letters ran in Sunday's Berkshire Eagle, the day after his body was discovered on Monument Mountain in Great Barrington, an apparent suicide. (The Eagle's Sunday editorial pages are put together late in the week.)
In chronicling his unsuccessful two-year battle with the VA office in Boston to get his disability claim resolved, Mr. Passetto undoubtedly wrote for many veterans across the county, state and country. In an open letter to President Obama that he apparently never sent but was posted by a friend on Facebook, he wrote of the months waiting for his claim to advance, time interrupted by occasional calls from the VA office telling him he would have to wait a few months longer. Although he was suffering from PTSD, haunted by his memories of the horrific helicopter accident, and dealing with mounting debt, joblessness and a family crisis, Mr. Passetto said in his letter to the president that he was told by the VA office he would "have to show proof of eviction or homelessness to qualify for extreme hardship consideration for your claim."
While the specifics of Mr. Passetto's dealings with the VA office are unknown, the generally shabby treatment of veterans since they began returning from Iraq and Afghanistan is well known. It has been chronicled on The Eagle's editorial pages and throughout the media, most recently on CBS' "Sixty Minutes" last Sunday. While the war hawks of Washington can find plenty of money for foreign military adventures, the deficit hawks of Washington (most of whom also are war hawks) cannot find the funds to help returning warriors, many afflicted with grievous physical and psychological ailments, heal and make the transition back to society. They should not have to wait until they hit rock bottom and are homeless to receive expedited treatment. What a great jobs program it would be to train and hire people (with veterans a priority) to work in VA offices to bring two-year-old claims like Mr. Passetto's up to date and clear this indefensible backlog.
Suicides by military veterans have reached horrific proportions in recent years, and Mr. Passetto is the latest casualty. His sense that, as he wrote in the letter to the president, he was "abandoned by my own country" is undoubtedly shared by many veterans. It would honor Edward Passetto's memory and the memory of other forgotten veterans if Americans insisted that their appointed and elected officials do justice by the soldiers who are too often abandoned once they set foot again on U.S. soil.