In 2004, Tammy Duckworth (D-IL ) was deployed to Iraq as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot for the Illinois Army National Guard. She was one of the first Army women to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom until her helicopter was hit by an RPG on November 12, 2004. Duckworth lost her legs and partial use of her right arm in the explosion and was awarded a Purple Heart for her combat injuries.
Duckworth spent the next year recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. As one of the highest-ranking patients, she quickly became an advocate for her fellow soldiers.( and testified before Congress about caring for our Veterans and wounded warriors.) In November 2012 she was elected to Congress for the eighth district of Illinois.
Duckworth declined a military medical retirement and continues to drill as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard.
Featured Interview: Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth
VLM: What prompted you to join the Army?
While in graduate school at George Washington University I found that my peers and those whose values I most respected in class were all Veterans or active members of the military. They recommended I enroll in ROTC courses to learn more about the military. I fell in love with the military at basic training. I fell in love with the challenges and the camaraderie. I even liked the drill sergeants yelling at us, challenging us to do better. I knew that I’d serve as long as the Army needed me.
In addition, a member of my family has proudly served our country throughout every period of conflict dating back to the American Revolution, so service has played an enormous role in my life.
VLM: After your serious wounds you sustained in Iraq, why did you continue service to veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs and as a mentor to other disabled veterans?
After I sustained my injuries in Iraq, I made a commitment to my buddies who saved me to make every moment of my life count. In 2006 I was appointed Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, and then went on to work as an Assistant Secretary for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs in 2009. I truly felt that my service to this country was not over after I recovered. I wanted to advocate for service men and women who dedicated so much to our country. We often forget that our responsibility to this nation’s military men and women does not end when they come home.
VLM: In your opening statement on June 26 to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, you began as follows: “I want to support our small businesses as much as possible, I want these set-asides to be successful but I am appalled by the advantages taken because of the system…” Is one of these advantages [for fraud] the government-wide policy of ‘self-certification’ of service-connected disability?
It is disheartening to learn about fraud in government programs that have been created to support Veterans who have given so much to our country. These programs and set-asides are meant to encourage those with service-connected disabilities to take the skills and experiences they have learned in the military and put them to good use. When people exploit the system they do a great disservice to our country.
VLM: During the hearing, you asked Mr. Castillo: “Do you think that the VA’s disability rating of 30% is accurate?” Your disability rating for loss of two limbs is 20% …Do you think a general review of the VA’s rating system is overdue?
I received a disability rating of 20% for the injuries to my arm, and I am a 100% disabled Veteran overall.
The VA’s disability rating system was implemented prior to World War II and needs to be reviewed. I’ve always made clear that it is of the utmost importance to fulfill promises that have been made to Veterans and ensure that they are provided with the benefits and services they deserve. When someone takes advantage of the system it slows down the process for our Veterans most in need.