Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a Democratic congresswoman and disabled Iraq War vet, says her shaming of an IRS contractor claiming his decades-old football injury at a military prep school entitled his IT business to government contracts was done out of respect for all veterans.
The Illinois lawmaker lost her legs and the use of her right arm in Iraq in 2004 when the Blackhawk helicopter she was piloting was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade. On Wednesday, she berated Braulio Castillo, the chief executive of Leesburg, Va.-based Strong Castle, during a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing on Capitol Hill.
"Your foot hurt?" Duckworth asked Castillo.
"Yes ma'am," he replied.
"My feet hurt, too," Duckworth said. "In fact, the balls of my feet burn continuously and I feel like there's a nail being hammered into my heel right now. So I can understand pain and suffering and how service connection can cause unremitting, unyielding, unstoppable pain. So I'm sorry twisting your ankle in high school has now come back to hurt you in such a painful way, and also opportune for you to gain this status for your business."
Castillo, whose friendship with a top IRS official has come under House scrutiny, says he broke his foot at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School in 1984.
According to its website, Strong Castle is "a Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) Center for Veteran Enterprise (CVE) verified Service-Disabled, Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB), and a Commonwealth of Virginia Small, Women, and Minority (SWaM) certified Minority-Owned Small Business." In May, the company was a runner-up for the Veterans Affairs Award at a local business awards event.
During the hearing, Duckworth read aloud a letter Castillo had sent to Veterans Affairs seeking set-aside contract status. It read in part: "These are crosses that I bear due to my service to our great country and I would do it again to protect this great country.”
“I’m so glad that you would be willing to play football in prep school again to protect this great country,” Duckworth told Castillo. “Shame on you, Mr. Castillo. Shame on you. You may not have broken any laws, but you certainly broke the trust of this great 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," she continued. "It is because people like you who are gaming the system are adding to that backlog 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."