PITTSFIELD -- Patricia Passetto wants change in this country and in how the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs serves its constituents.
Her son, 28-year-old Marine Corps veteran Edward S. Passetto of Pittsfield, died on Saturday morning from an apparent suicide on Monument Mountain. He had long struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression.
On Wednesday, Patricia Passetto met with members of The Eagle staff to champion the legacy of her son and share her frustrations about how people like her son become burdened by the length of time it takes for a veteran’s benefit claim to be reviewed, stamped and delivered.
"I want to see changes," said Patricia Passetto, a Lee resident, who had served in the Navy. Her late husband and Edward’s father, Michael J. Passetto, had served with the Army.
"I support our military. I support our military men. I do not support our military’s process," she said. "The whole administration needs to change."
According to VA data published on March 28, 2013, there were a total of 865,989 claims pending in the Veterans Benefit Administration. The total number of backlogged claims, meaning claims pending longer than 125 days, was 606,007.
The majority of those backlogged claims, 38 percent, come from Vietnam veterans; 22 percent come from veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and another 22 percent come from veterans of the Gulf War.
Patricia Passetto called her son, who stood at more than six feet tall, "a big bear that purred. He loved life."
She also said he was the kind of guy who did his homework and was passionate about pursuing what he believed in, including working tirelessly to claim his benefits to support himself and his 3-year-old son.
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."
Edward Passetto said he filed his first claim for disabilities received while in service in May 2011. Still waiting to receive his claims in April 2013, he said he began another round of phone calls, and also wrote to Congressman Richard Neal’s office.
"A week later I receive a call asking for a verification of address. The gentleman on the phone told me that my claim will be done by the first of the month," Passetto wrote in his letter to the president.
"Three weeks went by and I called the VA hotline looking for answers as to why my claim has not moved in the process. The gentleman stated that it would take approximately 120 days for the Boston VA to complete the next step. When asked how long overall it would take, he said it could take another six to eight months. Mr. President, I have waited more than 730 days for my disability claim to be completed patiently."
During that time, Passetto said he had accrued debt he was unable to pay off, went to debt collectors, lost unemployment benefits and also fell behind on his other bills, like rent.
His mother told The Eagle on Wednesday that she recently learned her son’s disabilities claim was also levied by the IRS for the back taxes he owed on unemployment since being medically discharged and returning home in March 2011.
She said if veterans have to wait to have their claims filed by multiple offices, veterans should at least have that process clearly explained to them, as well as be given a succinct timeline of the process.
"We have senators and representatives in this country who get benefits handed to them when they walk out the door. Why can’t they do that for veterans?" Patricia Passetto said, noting she knew of another woman who has been waiting 10 years for veterans benefits.
"They need to revamp [the system]," she said.
What: Liturgy of Christian Burial for U.S. Marine Sgt. Edward Passetto
Where: St. Mary’s Church, Lee
When: 10 a.m., Friday; Visiting hours are 4 to 7 p.m. at Kelly Funeral Home
More info: www.kellyfuneralhome.net