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The Nation

Duckworth recounts '05 Walter Reed woes

March 06, 2007|From the Chicago Tribune

CHICAGO — As she recovered in 2005 from massive wounds sustained in a helicopter crash in Iraq, L. Tammy Duckworth sometimes saw hints of the scandal that has enveloped Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the retired Army major said.

"I had a cockroach in my room.... I saw mice," said Duckworth, director of the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs, who met Monday with homeless veterans in McHenry County.

Sometimes patients had to take care of each other when there weren't enough staff members around to help, said Duckworth, who lost her legs in the 2004 crash. She was a National Guard helicopter pilot.

But as the political fallout continued over allegations of poor conditions at the storied Army hospital, Duckworth stressed that the doctors, nurses and staff were top-notch.

They're just overwhelmed by a war that has lasted longer and produced more casualties than anyone predicted, she said.

"Walter Reed Army hospital saved my life," Duckworth said. "They saved my arms. The men and women who work there are incredibly dedicated. They're also incredibly overwhelmed."

After losing a spirited race for the 6th Congressional District by a razor-thin margin in November, Duckworth was tapped by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to run the state's Veterans Affairs Department.

On Monday, she attended a two-day event in Algonquin, Ill., aimed at helping veterans to find services and jobs.

Some of the nearly two dozen vets who attended told her stories of their difficulties getting benefits or wading through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs' bureaucracy for services.

Duckworth said she wasn't surprised by some of the Walter Reed allegations. The staff was becoming overworked when she was an outpatient for 13 months, she said. Yet she was one of about 100 patients, she said, compared with roughly 700 outpatients now.

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