Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) knows more than her share about combat disability. She lost both legs and the use of her right arm while serving as a helicopter pilot in Iraq. So the Illinois Democrat held nothing back when, in a hearing of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform, she found herself face to face with a federal contractor whose technology company won as much as $500 million in IRS contracts in 2012 thanks to his status as a disabled veteran, which he claimed due to an ankle injury he suffered playing football at a military prep school.
The contractor — Braulio Castillo, CEO of Strong Castle Inc. — says he got hurt at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School, which he attended in 1984, but went on to play quarterback at San Diego City College and the University of San Diego, according to a committee report. Later, he claimed the pain returned to his foot, and got cleared to enter Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business Program, which, according to Duckworth, he complained competitors were exploiting to get an unfair advantage in the pursuit of government work.
"I'm sorry that twisting your ankle in high school has now come back to hurt you in such a painful way, if also opportune for you to gain this status for your business," Duckworth said.
"The high point of the exchange..." according to Christina Wilkie at The Huffington Post, "was a letter, read by the congresswoman, in which Castillo told a government official that his foot injury was 'due to my service to this great country, and I would do it again to protect this great country."
Duckworth's reply was molten gold. "I'm so glad that you would be willing to play football at prep school again to protect this great country," she said with undisguised sarcasm. She continued:
"Shame on you, Mr. Castillo. 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. It is because people like you who are gaming the system are adding to that backlog 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."
Duckworth publicly shamed Castillo, says Neetzan Zimmerman at Gawker, "in such a magnificent way that it almost made his fraud worthwhile." Of course, as Duckworth said, Castillo has not been accused of fraud or anything illegal, but plenty of people found similar glee in the exchange. "I hate to take... joy in someone just being pounded upon," says Andy Kravetz at the Peoria Journal Star, "but I have a tough time with someone who files a disability claim with the VA for an injury he suffered while at a military prep school."
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