Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Schaumburg, made headlines last year when she defeated Tea Party incumbent Joe Walsh for the seat of Illinois’ 8th Congressional District.
Now, the freshman Democrat and Iraq War veteran has again stepped into the media spotlight, after confronting an IRS contractor she accused of misusing a government program designed to aid veteran business owners during a house committee hearing.
Duckworth, who still actively serves in the Illinois National Guard, lost her legs and the use of her right arm during a tour of duty in Iraq in 2004. She has advocated for veteran assistance programs throughout her political career.
During the hearing, Duckworth told contractor Braulio Castillo that his actions broke the trust of the nation and took advantage of the system. Castillo sprained his ankle while playing football in military prep school almost 30 years ago and used the injury to obtain military disability status and win $500 million in IRS contracts.
“Shame on you, Mr. Castillo. Shame on you,” Duckworth said during the hearing. “Twisting your ankle in prep school is not defending or serving this nation.”
The issue is one that is close to her heart.
“I know so many veterans who are waiting and waiting and waiting for their benefits, and can’t get through the system because the system is clogged with cases like this gentleman’s,” Duckworth said. “He never even wore the uniform or picked up a weapon.”
Duckworth’s strong words garnered significant media attention in the days and weeks after the hearing, although the congresswoman said the media response was a surprise.
“We have these great programs that are meant to help veterans,” Duckworth said. “He gamed the system at the expense of other folks who legitimately could have benefitted from it.”
Duckworth ran for office on a platform that included establishing veteran’s programs and job stability. She continues to prioritize those initial goals and earlier this year introduced the Troop Talent Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation that aims to help military men and women become certified for civilian work and increase their post-military hirability starting the day they enlist.
Locally, Duckworth’s political interests include cultivating the district’s business community. She is planning a series of workshops within the district with the U.S. Small Business Administration of Illinois to offer small business owners the necessary tools to navigate the business world. She is also partnering with the Export-Import Bank of the United States and Wintrust Bank Group to provide local business owners with information about available resources.
However, the representative also noted the vulnerability of district businesses, saying that the 8th Congressional District is dominated by small and medium sized industrial businesses that would benefit from expanding their markets. She hopes to see residents acknowledge in-district opportunities in manufacturing as well.
“We have the capacity to grow,” said Duckworth. “I really want to make sure that we help our businesses look abroad.”