(CNN) – Democratic congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran and double-amputee, fired back at opponent Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois after he criticized her for talking too much about her military service.
"It's very irresponsible for Mr. Walsh, as a sitting congressman, to try to muzzle war veterans and keep them from talking about their service," Duckworth said on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer."
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A Black Hawk helicopter pilot in Iraq, Duckworth lost both legs and the use of one arm when her crew was shot down in 2004. She was later awarded the Purple Heart and continues to serve as a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois Army National Guard.
Walsh first made his comments at a town hall Sunday, when he claimed Duckworth focuses almost entirely on her military background.
"My God, that's all she talks about," Walsh said. "Our true heroes, it's the last thing in the world they talk about. That's why we're so indebted and in awe of what they've done."
He has since repeatedly stood by his remarks, insisting that Duckworth is a hero but that her service doesn't solely make her qualified for Congress.
"I have respect for her and her service. My thoughts and prayers go out to her, like they do every wounded warrior. But that doesn't demand our vote," he said to CNN's Ashleigh Banfield in a heated interview Thursday.
Hitting back, Duckworth maintained that she discusses the issues "a majority of the time" and argued instead that Walsh was trying to "distract" voters away from his record in Congress.
The two candidates are fighting for a seat representing the new 8th Congressional District located outside of Chicago and created by the state's recent redistricting process. It's widely expected to vote Democratic in November.
Duckworth said she hopes more veterans will abandon any stigma that may come with talking about their service, arguing it could help make them more marketable in the workforce.
"They need to talk about the leadership skills they learned in the military that will make them better employees," she said. "They need to talk about the fact they were able to accomplish really tough missions under really extreme conditions."
This marks Duckworth's second run for Congress. She made an unsuccessful House bid in 2006, prior to being tapped by President Barack Obama in 2009 to become the Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
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