Duckworth rips witness over veterans disability claim
June 26th, 2013
02:34 PM ET
7 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. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA -aka- Take Back The House -aka- No Redemption Votes

    Rip him a new one Rep. Duckworth. His benefits should be revoked immediately! He's a disgrace to the uniform and should go hide in a corner in shame. Pathetic man

    June 26, 2013 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  2. Warren

    Man all I can say to this is WOW, How could this guy get in front of people and try to defend himself.. He has to be a one of the lowest life forms on earth... I feel sorry for his family..

    June 26, 2013 02:46 pm at 2:46 pm |
  3. Name jk. Sfl. GOP conservatives,the garbage of America.

    Prime example of thrift of government funds that. Should only go to combat and active duty veterans only!!!!

    June 26, 2013 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  4. Gary

    The only thing that would make Castillo more discusting would be to take 5 deferments, become VPotUs and start a war resulting in the deaths of 1000's of real Americans.

    June 26, 2013 02:53 pm at 2:53 pm |
  5. 82ndABNVET

    This is a stand up guy. Wow.

    What a piece of work. I hope they fry him.

    As a truly disabled vet, this guy makes me want to puke.

    June 26, 2013 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
  6. sonny chapman

    It's impossible to embarrass some people.

    June 26, 2013 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  7. scarf

    That, Mr. Issa, is what your committee is for.

    June 26, 2013 03:03 pm at 3:03 pm |
  8. Guest

    He is one of millions defrauding the taxpayer through one program or another, you liberals like to rmain blind on the others, dont want you to be disenfranchised if you have to get an ID or follow the law.

    June 26, 2013 03:08 pm at 3:08 pm |
  9. just sayin

    it is about time all of this disability fraud gets called out. the country is wasting many billions on frauds like this guy while the truly deserving wait and wait and some get denied. horrendous.

    June 26, 2013 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  10. Abbey

    Madam Duckworth what do you expect when the size of government gets to big? Clearly you should know from personal experience that citizens take advantage of the system. I bet you also support Obamacare, and wait what happens in that.

    June 26, 2013 03:28 pm at 3:28 pm |
  11. Steveo

    I respect Ms Duckworth's stance on this issue! Dude should be happy he isn't brought up on charges of fraud. He played Division 1 COLLEGE FOOTBALL!

    June 26, 2013 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  12. Steveo


    The only thing that would make Castillo more discusting would be to take 5 deferments, become VPotUs and start a war resulting in the deaths of 1000's of real Americans.
    Biden defered!

    June 26, 2013 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  13. JustAO

    Love it when politicians take it to the little guy gaming the system then say nothing about working to actually change that system so it can't be gamed in the future. Politicians, gotta love them for what they preach about, but rarely practice.

    June 26, 2013 03:55 pm at 3:55 pm |
  14. anonymous

    What is all the uproar about??? This guy is just one small part of all that hundreds of billions of "waste, fraud & abuse" politicians are always clamoring about but never go after and get rid of.

    Want to get rid of it? Pay people $10,000, $50,000 & $100,000 tax free rewards for tips on all of the waste fraud and abuse. Money well spent and will save trillions in the long run.

    June 26, 2013 03:57 pm at 3:57 pm |
  15. travismatthew

    There's nothing good to post about this guy. P.O.S.

    June 26, 2013 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  16. Sniffit

    LOL...she ripped him a new one haha. Truly Awesome.

    June 26, 2013 04:10 pm at 4:10 pm |
  17. Chaerlotte

    How often do we see Darrel Issa and Tammy Duckworth in agreement on ANYTHING. Here's a clear case of abuse, no matter which side of the aisle you sit on.

    June 26, 2013 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  18. Rick McDaniel

    Too bad she isn't interested in all those able bodied people, sitting around their living rooms, waiting on their welfare checks.

    June 26, 2013 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
  19. Rudy NYC


    Love it when politicians take it to the little guy gaming the system then say nothing about working to actually change that system so it can't be gamed in the future. Politicians, gotta love them for what they preach about, but rarely practice.
    He volunteered to testify about being unfairly treated by the IRS. No one sought him out. He put himself in it and he doesn't pass the smell test.

    June 26, 2013 04:16 pm at 4:16 pm |
  20. Dominican mama 4 Obama

    This man is the definition of a sin verguenza and a descarado. And please CNN before you block my post get one of your "foreign correspondents" to tell you what that means.
    It is shameful how he got away with this.
    It is shameful that his little buddy in the IRS would even think of accepting a HIGH SCHOOL injury as a military injury.
    It is shameful that this poor excuse for an anything would have the gall to claim how much he and his family have sacrificed defending our nation.
    It is even more shameful that there is a system in place that would qualify Ms. Duckworth's SEVERE injuries as 20% disabled versus an ankle injury that allowed this clown to play college football as 30% disable.
    He shamefully milled the system. Hell, the system stuck its' teat in his mouth when he was full.
    I am beyond beyond with this type of bs! Throw the f'ing book at him!

    June 26, 2013 04:20 pm at 4:20 pm |
  21. Dan

    The man who steals a loaf of bread because his family is starving deserves our mercy.
    The man who is wealthy, intentionally games the system, and then lies when caught must repent before his judgement day with the Lord.

    June 26, 2013 04:33 pm at 4:33 pm |
  22. Evergreen

    Part of being patriotic and loving your country is to not take advantage of the systems put in place to truly help those in need.Gaming the system isn't limited to one group or class of citizen or type of program.

    June 26, 2013 04:39 pm at 4:39 pm |
  23. The Real Tom Paine

    You know, hell just froze over because I agree with just sayin.

    June 26, 2013 04:45 pm at 4:45 pm |
  24. Chris

    I received a 10% rating for breaking my ankle on an airborne op when I got out of the Army...I stayed in and served my time and did not receive this rating until after I had joined the Navy, served my time, and was honorably discarged. I ended up with an upgraded rating due to internal stomach issues which to this have not been explained by the doctors...for that the VA granted me an additional 10%...for a total of 20%. I served my country in during the War on Terror and was honorably discharged so that I could attend college on my GI Bill money.

    I started a business in 2012 and applied for the same status as this know what, I was denied due to how the VA and law apply the law. This guy is discharged over a foot injury, plays football, and then gets a rating for his business that I have to fight for...what a sham.

    June 26, 2013 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  25. Chris

    To clarify my earlier comment:

    1) Joined the Army in 1991 and was honorably discharged in 1996 with, I did not apply for a VA rating because I didnt know what that was and did not care.

    2) Joined the Navy in 1997 and was honorably discharged in 2002, upon going thru the standard outprocessing physical, the VA rated my broken ankle injury at 10%, but could not rate my stomache issues since they had not completed testing.

    3) Went to college and completed all the stomache testing the VA asked me to, I was awarded an additional 10% for a total VA Disability Rating of 20%.

    4) Opened small business in 2012, filed for Service Connected Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business status and was denied after 6-months of jumping thru hoops, paying an attorney to respond to the first denial letter.

    5) This guy plays football at a major univeristy after being discharged, never raised a weapon or went overseas, and he gets 30% and more benefits than most diabled veterans...and then gets the status many of us are denied.

    June 26, 2013 04:59 pm at 4:59 pm |
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