Duckworth rips witness over veterans disability claim
June 26th, 2013
02:34 PM ET
10 years ago

Duckworth rips witness over veterans disability claim

(CNN) - Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran and double-amputee, lambasted a witness during a congressional hearing Wednesday, accusing him of "gaming the system" for federal veterans benefits.

The witness, Braulio Castillo, had come under scrutiny from the House Oversight and Government Reform committee for allegedly claiming veteran disability status as a way to gain an advantage in contracting bids for the Internal Revenue Service.

Castillo, president and CEO of an IT company called Strong Castle, reported a foot injury he sustained in 1984 at the U.S Military Academy Preparatory School, according to a report released by the committee. He was honorably discharged in his first year at the school, and later went on to play football at the University of San Diego as quarterback and linebacker.

Seeking to acquire a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business credential–designed by the Small Business Administration to help veterans apply for federal contracts–he listed his injury as his qualification. After reporting ongoing pain and treatment for his foot, Castillo was granted a 30% disability rating by the Department of Veterans Affairs, with the highest rating for injuries below the knee being 40%.

Duckworth, D-Illinois, asked Castillo Wednesday if he believed the level of his disability rating was fair and accurate, to which he replied, "Yes ma'am, I do."

Duckworth, who served as Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs during President Obama's first term, continued.

"My right arm was essentially blown off and reattached," she said. "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%," she added.

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.

"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 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 the help that they need."

She gave an example of a former Navy Corpsman whose leg was knocked off by an RPG. She said he put a tourniquet on himself and kept moving into an ambush.

"He played through the pain," Duckworth said, taking a swipe at Castillo's time playing football in college after hurting his foot. "You did not. You took advantage of the system....You, who never picked up a weapon in defense of this great nation, very cynically took advantage of this system. You broke the faith of this nation."

Duckworth also read aloud an excerpt from the report, in which Castillo had described his injury to a VA official through email.

"My family and I have made considerable sacrifices for our country," he wrote. "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 medication so I can work a normal day's worth. These are crosses that I bear due to my service to our great country."

He went on to ask for the certification so that his "sacrifices and investments are not [sic] and that I can provide for my family."

Duckworth, however, cringed at the email and expressed disgust with Castillo's attempt to claim the injury.

"If this nation stops funding veterans' health care and calls into question why veterans deserve their benefits, it's because cases like you have poisoned the public's opinion on these programs. I hope that you think twice about the example that you're setting for your children."

"Twisting your ankle in prep school is not defending or serving this nation, Mr. Castillo," she added.

Duckworth, who acknowledged she had gone over her allotted time, yielded the session back to committee chairman Darrell Issa, R-California.

"I thank the gentlelady," Issa said. "And the time was well-spent."

The committee had also called into question Castillo's personal friendship with an IRS official as he attempted to obtain the contract.

In written testimony for the hearing, Castillo defended his actions, saying he was simply seeking benefits that were being offered by the administration in his quest to win a bid with the IRS.

"Strong Castle has not sought nor has it received any unfair advantages in its pursuit of any government contract," he testified.

He also blamed other small businesses for trying to unfairly pin Castillo in a competitive bid environment.

"We believe that they have used the bid protest gain business advantages by spurious claims about our qualifications and contracting practices."

- CNN's Dana Bash contributed to this report.

Filed under: House • Tammy Duckworth • Veterans
soundoff (42 Responses)
  1. Stuffit

    Way to go Tammy, I am on a 37 week waiting list to get an exam from the VA. This is what happens when the government takes of medicine, like anything else it becomes bureaucratic and corrupt. Welcome to Obozocare.

    June 26, 2013 05:26 pm at 5:26 pm |
  2. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    @ Chris
    I feel you sir. It is quite unfair.
    Perhaps you missed th part about Castillo having a buddy at the IRS. I'm sure that helped facilitate his milking of the system.
    It is always good to have a buddy at the IRS trying to help speed things along....

    June 26, 2013 05:45 pm at 5:45 pm |
  3. smith

    WOW..liberals opened their eyes for once. There are people out there gaming all systems wether its the VA, welfare, WIC, etc..and these peeps are your buddies..Wake up libs stop the abuse.

    June 26, 2013 05:52 pm at 5:52 pm |
  4. don in albuquerque

    Go get em' Tammy! I don't care if your military or mickey mouse club, there will always be people in every group "gaming" the system. Shame this guy cannot be charged and go to jail.

    June 26, 2013 06:12 pm at 6:12 pm |
  5. dave

    This is a case of fraud what about medical records. But don't use this as a excuse for backlog of claims. Who let this claim go through. Good job Duckworth but alot of veterans didn't shoot guns or wasn't in wartime. We all service this country and its alot of different story. Quit the low ball help the vets. About 7 billion dollars worth of equipment in middle east about to be scape. So stop the deny, the delay, the wait to you die. God bless america.

    June 26, 2013 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  6. Donkey Party

    Rick McDenial – Way to insult your fellow right-wingers. 70% of welfare recipients are white, from red states, who vote overwhelmingly Republican.

    June 26, 2013 06:56 pm at 6:56 pm |
  7. james r bryant

    I waited two years for the Military to deny me a claim for having a enlarged prostate at which time I was treated with the medicine finersteride somehow they lost my medical paperwork like they usually do.Why would I lie about something that might eventually give me prostate cancer.

    June 26, 2013 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  8. Michael

    Mr Castillo should not have lied about being a disabled veteran and I agree with her but not everyone can join the military because of a preexisting disability. Instead of Ms Duckworth ranting about how about a non-veteran got a government contract, how about leveling the playing field so that everyone is granted the same opportunity by allowing people with a preexisting disability to join the military if that person so desire to.

    June 26, 2013 07:34 pm at 7:34 pm |
  9. Pete

    Yes and republicans John McCain had moved to cut benefits in Tricare a couple of years ago and isn't he every republicans hero the Saigon Songbird ...I applaud all you people and your service myself never served but family members in father Army AirCorp WWII,brother tunnel rat Vietnam and my eldest son a Navy pilot that flew drones now out of service working privately..I have friends who fought this VA system for over 30 years to get disability benefits and one friend wounded in Vietnam that has agent Orange,blown ear drums and PTSD that if someone drops anything making a sharpe noise he runs for cover its that bad being in infantry for the early part of that war..You go to fight for this great country and is this how you're treated like my brother told of sitting for weeks on end just looking at four walls in a waiting room hoping that someone will come out asking your name but more times not in many VA hospitals,clinics...That's not what my buddy and brother who also has nitemares resulting from PTSD also signed up for and my brother sent me a letter from Vietnam and again told me when he came home from overseas after he being called a baby killer in San Diego never sign up for any military service because they're good at one thing and its sure as hell not in caring or following up on the people who served for them overseas militarily in these wars...Just lies heeped upon lies he said just like he got from the recruiter when he initially enlisted in the 60s to serve for his country and he didn't know like many when the lies would end,some did with their lives over there!!

    June 26, 2013 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  10. Sandy

    This guy knows someone in the system. That's how he got approved with very little qualifications for the benefits he was getting. Find out who he knows that works for whoever approves these applications.

    June 26, 2013 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  11. KSanborn

    A veteran is a veteran, regardless of where/when the individual served. If they were hurt during the time of their service, they are entitled to benefits.

    Castillo's rating is definitely questionable, but I say take the issue up with the Claims reviewer, not Castillo.

    I served 3 years, never went to the sandbox, I suffered a fractured leg and ankle while on AD. I have screws in my foot. I have a 20% rating. Because I'm not OEF/OIF that doesn't make me any less a veteran. I did my time and I was honorably discharged.

    Duckworth's comments about being a veteran only because someone fought in a war are incorrect.

    June 26, 2013 09:51 pm at 9:51 pm |
  12. Johann von Marck

    I find a congresswoman accusing someone of "gaming the system" laughable. Congress has been doing just that at our expense for decades. Give me a break.

    June 26, 2013 09:52 pm at 9:52 pm |
  13. Thomas

    Democratic Rep. Tammy Duckworth


    June 27, 2013 01:35 am at 1:35 am |
  14. a65442

    If she had been a better helicopter pilot she wouldn't be so messed up.

    June 27, 2013 04:16 am at 4:16 am |
  15. dave

    Made a comment early after hearing the hearing on tv you did a great job ms. Duckworth. But this shouldn't reflect on other veterans who doing the right thing and who honest about claims.

    June 27, 2013 05:20 am at 5:20 am |
  16. Wes

    As I write this from a wheelchair enduring constant pain that is often unbearable, I can find no greater hero in recent times than Tammy Duckworth. Although I am a veteran I had an accident that is not service related, however I find those who game the system of disability to advance their own agenda of greed and hubris appalling. The congresswoman who dressed down this scammer should be applauded for her tenacious overtures against a person who misrepresents all the values that a veteran has given their lives to defend. I had devoted my entire adult career in service to our nation by working for our security and see Tammy Duckworth as a valued asset for those who have lost so much of their physical lives. I may not EVER walk again, or have the use of my lower body and unable to enjoy many luxuries that so many others do, but I have the dignity to place probity far above perfidy. I would rather not be remembered at all than to be remembered badly. The gentleman who found a loophole to anchor his poor ankle on for a disability should be placed in stocks and held in public to demonstrate his shameful behavior. There are too many veterans lost in the world of disabling injuries and an addled bureaucracy to be sidelined by this egregious demonstration of citizenship. Tammy Duckworth has my full support and represents congress as it should be. Representative Duckworth should be recognized for her efforts and her service above her peers and too many congressional seat warmers.

    June 27, 2013 06:33 am at 6:33 am |
  17. Richard Marks

    Why should this surprise anyone? The requirements that the government purchase from certain classes of people is ripe with graft and corruption.

    Want to know a small reason the government is broke? Look at the Federal Aquisition Requirements.

    For example, I can purchase a case of paper at Staples with my government purchase card for between $20 and $25 .... but I am required to purchase from a source that is a small business or maybe female owned or a Veteran or any of a handful of other protected classes .... my cost? Over $70 for the exact same paper delivered by the same Staples store.

    So what is happening is, I place this order with a protected class merchant and they then go to an online retailer and place the order. The vendor I purchase from HAS NO ACTUAL STOCK.

    Somewhere, the government lost $50 and this is happening 24 / 7 / 365.

    June 27, 2013 07:41 am at 7:41 am |
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