Duckworth to be honored for commitment to disabled veterans

Thursday, June 21, 2007

She's one of the most recognizable veterans with a disability in the country. Tammy Duckworth, former congressional candidate, is trying to make a difference as the director of the state's Veterans' Affairs.

Tammy Duckworth is not afraid to deal with challenges.

Seven months ago, she was in a tight race for congress. Prior to that, she was relearning to walk with prosthetic legs.

In November 2004, Tammy Duckworth, a member of the Illinois Guard lost both legs when the Blackhawk helicopter she was piloting was shot down near Baghdad.

"I had crashed the helicopter that I had rolled and I failed as a pilot," Duckworth says. "I thought it was my fault that I lost my leg and I thought I deserved to lose my legs if I couldn't do my job."

Thirteen months later she was running for Congress.

Three days after losing the elections, she was appointed director of the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs. Since taking over the position, Duckworth has started a mortgage program that lends money to returning vets to buy their first home.

"I want to prepare the Department for the next 15 years when all of the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans come home," she says. "We are going to need more services just to get their lives started again. At the same time, we have a large generation of Vietnam veterans who are going to need help because they're now 65."

Helping disabled vets is on top of Duckworth's agenda.

"I want to establish some new programs for veterans, specifically post traumatic stress disorder and a traumatic brain injury program."

Duckworth adds that her personal experiences make her a better advocate.

"I go to Hines (VA Hospital in Chicago) for my therapy. As a matter of fact I'm going to Hines today. Because I'm in and out of there everyday I can stop in the hallways and talk to other veterans and see how they're being treated. I can be a better advocate for the veterans because I am one myself."

Even though she has only been disabled for two years, Duckworth continues to learn her new challenges.

"Now just this past six months, trying to find housing in Springfield, I've discovered how tough it really is to try to find housing," she says. "I'm just learning about many of these issues that I never had to struggle with."

Monday night, Tammy Duckworth is being honored by Chicago's access living for her extraordinary commitment to veterans with disabilities.

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