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Don’t Mess With Rep. Tammy Duckworth

Don’t Mess With Rep. Tammy Duckworth

Thinking about filing a disability claim with the Veterans Affairs department? You better make sure you’re claim is legit, unless you’re prepared to handle the wrath of Rep. Tammy Duckworth.

After receiving the tongue-lashing of a lifetime from Duckworth, IRS contractor Braulio Castillo, probably wishes he had thought twice before seeking special status for his IT company, Strong Castle, Inc., as a service-disabled, veteran-owned small business (SDVOSB).

Even though Castillo never entered active duty, the fact that he sustained an injury (while playing football) at a military prep school, The United States Military Academy Preparatory School (USMAPS), makes him entitled to be “a veteran due to the service-connected disability,” as stipulated by the Veterans Benefits Administration itself. His injury qualifies him for a 30 percent disability rating, meaning that he is 30 percent disabled.

Saying that he had “significant pain” in his left foot, Castillo filed a disability claim with the Veterans Affairs department shortly before starting his company in 2012. Six months later, he had $500 million worth in contracts –  that 30 percent disability rating meant Castillo’s company received preferential treatment in bidding competitions. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee investigators raised questions, but the IRS responded that it would be “disruptive“ to cancel Castillo’s contract worth $260 million.

Think something about that doesn’t sound right? Representative Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois and a double amputee after her helicopter was shot down by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq in 2004, definitely did not think so and told Castillo that in no uncertain terms at a hearing about on June 26. As she said in a speech that you must watch if you have not already:

“Does your foot hurt? My feet hurt too. 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 actually cause long-term, unremitting, unyielding, unstoppable pain.

“So I’m sorry that twisting your ankle in high school has now come back to hurt you in such a painful, if also opportune, way for you to gain this status for your business as you were trying to compete for contracts.”

After reading from a letter Castillo had written to a government official about how the pains from his high-school football injury were “crosses that I bear in my service to our great country,” Duckworth said:

“I’m so glad that you would be willing to play football in prep school again to protect this great country. 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.”

Duckworth then pointed on what is a real shame: the fact that veterans of the Iran and Afghanistan wars, which have lasted longer than World War I, have to wait a minimum of 237 days (nearly nine months) to receive an initial disability rating. As Pacific Standard points out, the Veteran Administration’s system for assigning disability ratings is “pretty much a disaster.”

Back in 1988, the federal General Accounting Office (GAO) discovered that the last time the disability assessment system was updated was back in 1945 (before, that is, Agent Orange). In particular, they found that VA, military, and private physicians were using outdated terminology, that impairments were “poorly defined,” and that “common medical conditions [were] missing from the schedule.” They also found that the physicians were still using diagnostic codes that ”did not distinguish between degrees of severity and did not list all medical conditions identified in medical examination reports.”

As of last November, when the GAO took a routine examination of an ongoing problem, an analysis found that the “VA hasn’t yet figured out how it defines “disability” in terms of a person’s ability to earn a living.”

Under the current system, Rep. Duckworth’s injured right arm — which, she says, was “essentially blown off” and which she cannot feel — qualifies her for a disability rating of 20 percent, less than what Castillo received for his long-ago injured foot.

Disability fraud such as Castillo stands to be accused of is a true affront to those who, like Rep. Duckworth and millions of others, actually have disabilities that can make their daily activities highly difficult, that can affect their lives in every way from careers to relationships and that still carry public shame and stigma.

With over 2.4 million people having served in Iraq and Afghanistan, suffering from post-traumatic stress and living with missing limbs and brain injuries, the necessity of updating and improving the disability assessment system is greater than ever. As Rep. Duckworth put it simply last week, “Twisting your ankle in prep school is not defending or serving this nation, Mr. Castillo.” Nor is taking advantage of benefits meant for those who have done just that and suffered severe, life-changing injuries.

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111 comments

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12:53PM PDT on Jul 4, 2013

I am from a military family. I personally know vets that have served and are injured. I even have a disability. Our vets deserve the very best care for their sacrifices. Neither Congress or Obama is giving them what they need. Lets stop this "male cow manure". Help them with actions and not words.

11:09AM PDT on Jul 4, 2013

This is outrageous! My husband is 100% disabled, and it took years to get his disability. I never knew something like this was even possible. I do know she is right about outdated criteria. There are also problems with spouses of disabled vets, when they die they are supposed to be getting a pension, but the criteria for it is so narrow that most don't. I have a friend whose husband died of his service connected disability who has been told she doesn't qualify. They were married more than 40 years, and she doesn't qualify? I told her to fight it. I know I will if they tell me that when my husband dies. It is a pittiance but it is something at least.

1:50AM PDT on Jul 4, 2013

Noted.

3:29PM PDT on Jul 3, 2013

Castillo....doesn't deserve a 30% disability service connected anything.

I served 9 years (3 tours) in the U.S. Army. Basic training - I got boots that weren't quite right for my feet, though they were about the correct size, but wound up with Achillies Tendonitis - both ankles were so swollen you couldn't see the ankle bones. Since then, marching, running, standing in heels on a hot tarmac, then other times - standing on cold tarmacs where the absolute Kansas cold crept up into my feet (our boots had steel shanks in them...so cold tarmacs were like ice stabbing you in the arches).

Did I claim any disability? No - and why not? Because I could still walk. I could still climb the hills even though, my feet hurt horribly today. Today, I can't stand for more than a couple minutes at a time, I get horrid cramps in my feet because of Plantars Facitis (hamstring doesn't stretch like it used to) and the bones in my feet crackles as I walk.

I also have ringing in the ears....but did I claim that as a disability? No, why not? Because I can still hear a pin drop.

I have a bad stomach....did I claim that? No, why? Because I'm still ok.

Castillo - claiming you twisted your ankle...sounds more like a whiner than anything, but more importantly - sounds like you would have used such an excuse to get out of going to war. Privileged children usually do.

DENY THIS CREEP any more contracts due to his "disability" because it isn't a disability. And the fire him

11:03AM PDT on Jul 3, 2013

She is amazing. I support her 100%.

9:55AM PDT on Jul 3, 2013

Thank you for the article Kristina, I had the opportunity to see her in action on the C-Span channel of my TV. When she did that questioning of the guy with the football injury. She gave it to him in spades....Bravo for her. We need more woman in congress like her, Wendy, from Texas, and Elizabeth Warren on the banking committee. With an army of ladies like that we could conquer anything. Go Woman Power.

8:49AM PDT on Jul 3, 2013

ty

7:00AM PDT on Jul 3, 2013

and remember that the kia and wounded lists that the military publishes are very wrong. those only cout for killed/wounded in theatre. so if they are evacuated to kuwait, or landstuhl or even back to their fob before they die....no count. wounded on the fob by an ied? not in the count. did you know there are right now 5 quadruple amputees surviving form iraq/afhanistan. thousands with tbi/ptsd, around 128 triple amputees, of which ms duckworth could add to if she loses her right arm. look up the polytrauma records for this war.............millions spent.....and more millions owed. the peak of claims to VA will not be until 2050 estimates say.
iraq will pay for itself said asshat bush.
REALLY????????
the entire congress makes me sick. even a child could have figured it out
and...do go look up depleted uranium effects on iraqi children...........literally hundreds born with organs outside bodies, no eyes, swollen torsos with 2 inch long arms and legs. who pays for that?
I am ashamed of america....and ashamed of every person who sat on their ass and watched this nappen, doing nothing to prevent it.
the troops belong to us....and we need to take care of them......and NEVER EVER EVER send them to war based on lies. up to us to,make sure we get it right

5:48AM PDT on Jul 3, 2013

ty

4:52AM PDT on Jul 3, 2013

I sure seems like Castillo is taking us and our veterens for an expensive ride. And kudos to Duckworth for calling it like it is.

And thank you Elegent Gypsy Rose for your posts on this. It is an act of dishonor to send our forces to wars of empire, to sacrifice their lives for financial/economic/hegemonic position. It is the height heresy to not take care of the survivors and leave them to suffer the many horrific traumas after their service. I can't help remembering that after Bush and Congress sent our people to war over lies in Afghanistan and Iraq, they cut, CUT spending on the VA while our troops were there. I hold so many grievances against the wealthly, Congress and the Bush administation (Obama's not much better) but I think this bothers me the most. The betrayal and heresy is mind boggling.

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Kristina Chew Kristina Chew teaches ancient Greek, Latin and Classics at Saint Peter's University in New Jersey.... more
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