June 30, 2013 Updated: June 30, 2013 at 2:15 pm
Tammy Duckworth is a hero, all politics aside. Anyone fed up with a government that overtaxes, overregulates and recklessly redistributes our heard-earned income to unworthy recipients may want to thank Duckworth after reading her words.
The Asian-American representative participated in a House hearing Thursday on questionable contracting practices of the IRS. Prospective government contractors are known to receive favorable consideration if they get veterans' disability benefits.
Braulio Castillo, CEO of Strong Castle Inc., contracts with the IRS. Strong Castle's website bills the company as a management consulting firm that grew by more than 400 percent in 2012 and is a "Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) Center for Veteran Enterprise (CVE) verified Service-Disabled, Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB)." Whatever that means.
A former Army Black Hawk helicopter pilot, Duckworth lost her legs while serving in Iraq and gets around in a wheelchair. A bomb blew off one arm, which has been reattached but lacks feeling and mobility.
Castillo, by contrast, hurt his ankle playing football at a military prep school. Aside from one year at prep school, Castillo has no military background. He is technically a veteran only because the minor injury goes down in the books as a service-related disability. Had he avoided the injury at prep school, Castillo would not be on the books as a veteran.
Castillo's injury was so minor that he went straight from prep school to the University of San Diego, where he played quarterback.
A House Oversight and Government Reform Committee report says Castillo made no issue his ankle for the next 27 years. Then he launched his company and used the "service-related" disability to improve his chances at government contracts. To date, the IRS has paid his company more than $500 million.
Castillo has a 30 percent disability rating from government. Duckworth, a Democrat, asked if he considered the rating accurate and fair.
"Yes, ma'am, I do," Castillo told her.
"My right arm was essentially blown off and reattached," Duckworth said. "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."
Then Duckworth quoted from a letter Castillo wrote to the Small Business Administration, seeking special consideration on a basis of his disability.
Duckworth, quoting Castillo's letter: "My family and I have made considerable sacrifices for our country. My service-connected disability status should serve as a testimony to that end. I can't play with my kids because I can't walk without pain. I take twice-daily pain medications so I can work a normal day's work. These are crosses. These are crosses (emphasis Duckworth's) that I bear due to my service to our great country and I would do it again to protect this great country."
Duckworth then told Castillo what she thought of his letter:
"I'm so glad that you would be willing to play football in prep school again to protect this great country," Duckworth said. "Shame on you, Mr. Castillo. Shame on You. You may not have broken any laws - we're not sure yet, you did misrepresent to the SBA - but you certainly broke the trust of this great nation. You broke the trust of veterans. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are waiting an average of 237 days for an initial disability rating and it's because 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 help that they need...
"Well let me tell you something. I recovered with a young man, a Navy corpsman, who, while he was running into an ambush where his Marines were hurt, had his leg knocked off with an RPG. He put a tourniquet on himself and crawled forward. He is who played through the pain, Mr. Castillo, you did not... You broke the faith with this nation. You broke the faith with the men and women who lie in hospitals right now...
"I hope that you think twice about what you are doing to this nation's veterans who are willing to die for this nation. Twisting your ankle in prep school is not defending or serving this nation, Mr. Castillo."
Thank you for your sacrifices, Rep. Duckworth. And thank you for having the heart and courage to unleash on a system that mocks the men and women who fight and work all day, playing by the rules, only to suffer abuse by scoundrels and their friends in government bureaucracies. Let's make sure people of Duckworth's character comprise our country's future, leaving the likes of Castillo in our past.