Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tammy Duckworth to be nominated to VA post

From Air Force Times:

Disabled Iraq war veteran Tammy Duckworth soon will be nominated to be part of President Obama’s team at the Veterans Affairs Department.

Duckworth, a major in the Illinois National Guard who lost both legs in 2004 after the helicopter she was flying was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade, will be nominated to be assistant veterans secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs, White House and VA officials announced Feb. 3.

The White House announced the “intention” to nominate Duckworth. A formal nomination won’t be made until background checks are done and Duckworth completes the required pile of paperwork and disclosure statements, VA officials said.

In 2006, after a failed bid for a seat in the House of Representatives, Duckworth was named Illinois’ director of veterans affairs.

A close ally of Obama, she was frequently mentioned as someone who might be appointed to or run for the Senate seat Obama vacated when he became president. The Senate seat ended up going to Ronald Burris, who had served as Illinois comptroller and attorney general.

Bob Wallace, executive director of Veterans of Foreign Wars, said he was pleased to see a disabled veteran named for a key job at the VA.

“Too often, this job goes to a nonveteran,” he said.

Wallace said he did not know Duckworth, but “we hear good things about what she has done in Illinois.”

And, being an Iraq war veteran means “she brings that new perspective. That is something we need,” Wallace said.

Duckworth had a minor run-in with the VFW during her congressional campaign when the group’s political action committee endorsed her Republican opponent, a nonveteran. Some Democrats talked of boycotting the VFW, but Duckworth issued a statement telling veterans not to drop out of a veterans service organization that had done so much good over the years.

VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said in a statement that Duckworth “brings significant talent, leadership and personal experience” to VA.

“Effective communications with veterans and VA’s stakeholders is key to improving our services and ensuring veterans receive the benefits they deserve,” Shinseki said.

The post Duckworth is being asked to fill involves working with Congress and shaping VA’s message to veterans and the news media. VA officials also said she would be responsible for programs for homeless veterans, consumer affairs and special events for veterans undergoing rehabilitation.

Duckworth, a frequent witness before the House and Senate veterans’ affairs committees on issues involving Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, remained in the National Guard after her 2004 injuries. Her husband, Bryan Bowlsbey, also is an Iraq war veteran and a major in the Illinois National Guard.

Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee chairman, made clear he will be supporting Duckworth once her formal nomination is made.

“President Obama has made a fine choice in selecting Tammy Duckworth to join Secretary Shinseki's team at VA,” Akaka said in a statement.

Akaka called her “a rising star and a source of inspiration for the newest generation of veterans. She has seen the system from many sides — as a wounded warrior at Walter Reed, an expert witness before Congress, and the head of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.”

Testifying in 2007 before the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Duckworth said VA seemed unprepared to deal with both older veterans and younger Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, and made a controversial proposal that all new amputees be treated in the private sector or at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center rather than at VA because the department’s prosthetic programs were not state-of-the-art.

Artificial limbs provided at VA were geared toward veterans who wanted to do a little walking and perhaps drive a car, while younger veterans want to be able to run marathons and climb mountains and return to duty, if possible, she said.

Duckworth said she was speaking from experience because the high-tech limbs she was given by the Army could not be repaired or adjusted at the VA hospital she used near Chicago because the hospital had no experience with the prosthetics.