Wounded Warrior, Guardsman Sworn Into Key VA Position
By Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 20, 2009 In an emotional return to Walter Reed Army Medical Center here today, Army National Guardsman Maj. L. Tammy Duckworth was sworn in as assistant secretary of veterans affairs for public and intergovernmental affairs. She pledged to continue her commitment to military veterans.
L. Tammy Duckworth, right, assistant secretary of veterans affairs for public and intergovernmental affairs, is sworn into federal office by Judge John J. Farley, left, U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, May 20, 2009, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, Army National Guard Maj. Bryan Bowlsbey, D.C. Duckworth’s husband, stood at her side during the ceremony. Department of Veterans Affairs photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
“It is with excitement and humility that I begin my tenure as assistant secretary of public and intergovernmental affairs at the Department of Veterans Affairs,” Duckworth, fighting back tears, said to an audience of wounded warriors, close friends and hospital staff. “Serving our veterans is a tremendous responsibility that requires dedication and sacrifice, a dedication that I see daily in all of our VA employees.”
President Barack Obama and VA Secretary Eric K. Shinseki’s vision of a “VA for the 21st Century” is a vision Duckworth is passionate about, she said. As a wounded Iraq war veteran and bilateral amputee, she knows first-hand of the sacrifices made by servicemembers and their families.
Duckworth spent nearly a year rehabilitating at Walter Reed after the Black Hawk helicopter she was piloting was shot down in Iraq in November 2004. She began a career in public service shortly thereafter -- specifically, she said, to ensure better care for military members and veterans, such as the ones who “didn’t leave me behind” in the wreckage of the helicopter crash.
She’s been an active voice for women servicemembers and wounded veterans. She ran unsuccessfully for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives for Illinois’ 6th district in 2006, and became director of the Illinois state VA later that year.
As assistant secretary for public and intergovernmental affairs, Duckworth is the “voice and face” of the veteran community, Shinseki said. In this position, she’s the primary contact for the White House and other federal agencies regarding VA matters.
Duckworth was officially sworn into her new position on April 22, after her Senate confirmation. But because of the impact her recovery at Walter Reed had on her life, she said, she was compelled to take the oath of office again at the medical center.
“I literally owe Walter Reed, and all the staff that work here, my life,” she said. “I wanted to do this here, because this is the place where I got my life back.”
She said the words, “Walter Reed” made her feel safe when she was still in shock and confused after the crash. The chain of heroism, she said, started with her crew at the crash site, but couldn’t have succeeded without the staff and others at Walter Reed.
“Walter Reed is present in every day of my life,” she said. “Just as you did not leave me behind, I am honored to join Secretary Shinseki and the rest of the VA family to make sure we never leave a veteran behind.”
Bunny Wyckoff had been on the job as a physical therapist at Walter Reed for only about six months when Duckworth first arrived for care. Wyckoff said she always knew Duckworth would make a difference for her fellow veterans in public service. “She just has a spark and desire to push beyond everything to achieve what she wants,” she said.
“It gives me great pleasure to see her moving on and doing great things,” Wyckoff added. “Tammy represents veterans very well. She understands what it’s like, and she has great compassion.”
U.S. Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and other members of Congress attended the ceremony, and Shinseki officiated. Many of the recovering troops who attended today’s ceremony, although holding cameras and obviously excited about the event, admitted to not knowing what it was about and who Duckworth is, Wyckoff said.
When asked by her patients, she said, she simply replied: “You’d better learn who Tammy Duckworth is, because she’s going to be your voice.”