Topics: House of Representatives

Rep. Tammy Duckworth takes apart IRS contractor for ‘gaming’ veterans benefits program

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Beltway Confidential,Congress,Joel Gehrke,House of Representatives,Veterans Affairs,IRS,Government Contractors

Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., who lost both legs and damaged her arm while serving in Iraq with the National Guard, offered a blistering denunciation of a contractor who used his friendship with an IRS official to win contracts reserved for the businesses of service-disabled veterans.

Strong Castle’s Braulio Castillo received the service-disabled designation because he injured his ankle while attending a military prep school before going to college.

“I’m so glad that you would be willing to play football in prep school again ‘to protect this great country,’” Duckworth told Castillo today during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. “Shame on you, Mr. Castillo. Shame on you. You may not have broken any laws, we’re not sure yet ... but you certainly broke the trust of this nation. You broke the trust of veterans. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans right now are waiting an average of 237 days for an initial disability rating and it is because [of] people like you who are gaming the system are adding to that backlog so that young men and women who are suffering from post-traumatic stress, who are missing limbs, cannot get the compensation and the help that they need.”

Duckworth asked Castillo if he believes that his disability rating of 30 percent is accurate. “Yes, ma’am, I do,” he replied. And then she explained that he had effectively said he made more a sacrifice through his military service than she did.

“You know, my right arm was essentially blown off and re-attached,” Duckworth told him. “I spent a year in limb salvage with over a dozen surgeries over that time period and, in fact, we thought we would lose my arm and I’m still in danger of possibly losing my arm. I can’t feel it. I can’t feel my three fingers. My disability rating for that arm is 20 percent.”

Duckworth sarcastically imagined Castillo “play[ing] through the pain” of his disability when he left military prep school, did not join the military, and instead played football at the University of San Diego.

“I recovered with a young man, a Navy corpsman, who — while he was running through an ambush where his Marines were hurt — had his leg knocked off with an RPG,” she said. “He put a tourniquet on himself and crawled forward. He is [the one] who played through the pain, Mr. Castillo, you did not. You took advantage of the system. You described this status just today, [saying] that other companyies were using these special statuses as ‘competitive weapons’ against you — you, who never took up a weapon in defense of this great nation very cynically took advantage of this system. You broke the faith with this nation. You broke the faith with the men and women who lie in hospitals right now at Walter Reed in Bethesda, at Brook Army Medical Center in [San Antonio], you broke the faith with them.”

 

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