It looks as if an SBI investigation will conclude that Kevin Anthony Battaglia, retired Army, just 33 years old, someone’s son, and the father of three young children, died when he was struck by an officer’s bullet during a standoff at his Parkton home on Sunday.
But make no mistake: This was suicide by cop, and Battaglia is only the latest veteran of our Middle East wars to pick that poison after returning to this country a shattered self, unable to deny his demons. In a very real sense, it was all of us who pulled the trigger that sent the bullet hurtling that would take Battaglia’s life, ending his suffering, but robbing him of so much that life could have offered.
A mix of family, neighbors and Army buddies portrayed Battaglia as a respectful guy who was struggling to assimilate back into society after seeing duty overseas. He had multiple brushes with the law, some minor, but also a serious brawl in a bar that sent him to prison. He was facing two DWI charges in Cumberland County, so it’s clear that alcohol was his medication of choice.
Battaglia was medically retired, presumably for a bad back, and he claimed to have been suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, that is so prevalent among veterans who experience first hand the horror of war. PTSD was first ascribed to Vietnam War veterans, and now the word is universally recognized.
We were told that Battaglia was frustrated by the Department of Veterans Affairs, believing he wasn’t receiving the kind of care he needed and deserved. The VA’s problems have been well-documented in recent years, so it’s easy to believe Battaglia’s gripe was legitimate.
Those who knew him saw his behavior deteriorating in recent weeks, and it could be seen on Facebook where his religious leanings were becoming cult-like. The American flag, Bible and weapons were prominent there — and in recent days he took to wearing camouflage.
There have been many studies concerning the number of veterans with PTSD, and one by RAND in 2014 found at least 20 percent of the 2.7 million Americans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan suffered with it or depression — and half never seek any treatment. That many more were suffering with traumatic brain injury, and about 7 percent both PTSD and TBI.
Those numbers are most likely low.
Last year a study for the Department of Veteran Affairs found that about 20 veterans commit suicide a day in this country. pushing the number to almost 7,500 a year.
So the evidence is overwhelming that this country continues to send its young people to war, and when they return we are ill-equipped to provide the care they deserve.
Often, as with Battaglia, the problems are apparent. But no one could stop this train wreck no matter how leisurely its pace. Friends, especially fellow military, apparently tried — and that included trying to talk him out of the house on the day he died.
Somehow, someway, this country has to do better for those who step forward and put themselves in harm’s way to preserve the ways of life and liberties that the rest of us enjoy.
It’s too late for Battaglia, but his death, which was explosive and public, can be given greater meaning should it move the needle at all in the direction of better care for our veterans.