On April 1, Tammy Duckworth, a wounded Iraq helicopter pilot (an explosion took her right leg above the knee and her left leg below the knee and almost destroyed her right arm, breaking it in three places) met before the Senate Veterans' Affairs Committee to 'apply' for a top job at the Department of Veterans Affairs. It was thought her confirmation would go smoothly with strong bipartisan support; at least that's how her confirmation hearing seem to go. Then out of nowhere, one Senator withholds his approval and seems to be evasive when it comes to why. What is known is that Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), Ranking Member on the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, is blocking Tammy Duckworth's nomination to be the VA's Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs. What is also 'known' is that Tammy Duckworth would do an admiral job, if she is given the opportunity. Perhaps there is something we could do.
Ranking Member Richard Burr's Initial Confirmation Comments - Excerpted
"...Major Duckworth, the position you seek also plays an important role in ensuring that veterans and their families are being well-served by VA. As the Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, one of your most important responsibilities would be to provide veterans and their families with up-to-date information about VA's activities, benefits, and services. This is critical because VA programs cannot help improve the lives of veterans if veterans don't know about them. In this role, you would also be responsible for fostering partnerships with organizations around the country that are willing to work with VA in carrying out its noble mission. We have veterans in all corners of the nation, including very rural areas, and many could benefit tremendously from these efforts. Major Duckworth, I look forward to hearing more about how you would carry out these and other important functions. Thank you again for being here and for your courageous service to our nation."
Opening Statement of L. Tammy Duckworth
Mr. Chairman and Distinguished Members of the Committee:
Thank you for the opportunity to come before you today. I am deeply honored and humbled that President Obama has given me this opportunity to serve our nation's Veterans. Since my time at Walter Reed, when this Committee first called on me to testify on behalf of my fellow Wounded Warriors, I have been privileged to answer your questions and assist you in caring for our brave military men and women. I plan to continue this important partnership with you in my new role at the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
A significant part of my duties will be to transform the Public Affairs functions at the Department of Veterans Affairs to fulfill President Obama's and Secretary Shinseki's commitment to a 21st Century agency with candor, transparency and integrity. Not only will DVA be responsive to this Committee's concerns, the Department will also be proactive in communicating with you, and with our Veterans. In order to become a 21st Century organization, DVA will have to change some past methods used to communicate with other government agencies, the Congress, the media, and most importantly, our Veterans. The things that DVA already does well, we will continue. However, with the changing demographics of our Veteran population, we will develop the communication strategies that best reach our newest Veterans where they live, work and play. It is no longer enough to hand out brochures at demobilization ceremonies. We must develop social networking strategies, use non-traditional outlets such as blogs, and employ the wide variety of new media available to get the message of available benefits to our Veterans.
Just as our nation learned from our Vietnam Veterans that we must love the Warrior regardless of our personal stand on the war, we must also learn the lesson of how DVA lost contact with so many Vietnam Veterans and apply that lesson today. We are in a critical time when we still have the ability to reach out to the generation of post-9/11 Veterans. If we send the message incorrectly, we risk angering or disappointing these Vets to the point where they turn their backs on VA, as so many did after Vietnam. The upcoming roll-out of the Post-9/11 GI Bill is a critical example. If our Vets are not given the correct information on qualifications and application processes, they will become frustrated and have their worst stereotypes of the DVA bureaucracy reinforced. Most tragically, if we do not reach out in the correct way to our Veterans suffering from Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, they will turn away and not access the care that they need for these wounds.
The second component of my position at DVA will be to develop partnerships with other federal and state agencies as well as with non-governmental organizations. As a result of my past work with Veterans, I recognize that the greatest frustration with DVA is not the quality of the care provided. In fact, DVA medical care is among the best in the country. The frustration is with gaining access to that care.
Local governmental agencies should become allies with the Department of Veterans Affairs in helping our Veterans access their DVA benefits. In my new job, I will use my past experience and relationships with the State Directors of Veterans Affairs, with County Veteran Service Officers, with Veteran Service Organizations as well as with organizations that have not traditionally partnered with DVA, such as Rotary International or the Lions Clubs. If DVA cannot be in every storefront of every hometown across America, we will find partners who are and who can help us distribute the tools that our Veterans need to gain access to the healthcare and benefits that they have earned through their service. No Veteran should ever have his access to DVA services blocked because of geography. Just as it did not matter where my hometown was when I enlisted, where I live now should not prevent me from getting the DVA services that I need and earned. Intergovernmental partnerships will be key in fulfilling our nation's obligations to our Veterans.
In the Army, my job did not start and end with flying helicopters. My job was to carry out the mission assigned to me and to take care of my Soldiers. I view this opportunity to serve in the Department of Veterans Affairs the same way. I am nominated to be Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs, but ultimately my job will be to support the mission of serving our Veterans. I live every day knowing that I should have died in that dusty field north of Baghdad and am alive today only because my buddies would not leave me behind. I intend to honor their heroism by doing everything that I can to make sure that this nation stands by those who have served and leaves no Veteran behind. Thank you for this opportunity to come before you today, and God Bless our troops who are in harm's way around the world.
I am happy to answer any questions you my have.
The Actual Confirmation Hearing
The confirmation hearing is available (
). Watching and listening to it leads one to the only conclusion; Duckworth should be confirmed.
Senator Burr's Written Questions - Duckworth's Responses
As you know, the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs requires all nominees to complete a two-part questionnaire. From you, we received two versions of Part I of the questionnaire and three versions of Part II. Certainly, I could understand if mistakes were made in filling out these fairly complicated forms and you needed to submit new forms to correct errors. But, in response to pre-hearing questions, you made this statement: "I believe all my submissions have been accurate."
Question: Are you saying that all of the information contained in all three versions of the questionnaire is correct?
Answer: The information contained in each version of the questionnaire was correct to the best of my knowledge at the time I submitted it. I submitted more than one version in order to immediately respond to the Committee's requests for more information. In addition, the revised questionnaire incorporates information from year-end summaries I only recently received from my financial advisors.
Question: If so, I would ask you to explain how that is so, given that the most recent submissions appear to list assets and income streams that were not identified in the original submission and the amounts listed for certain assets, liabilities, and income streams were changed in the later versions?
Answer: Initially I completed the questionnaire on my own without any guidance. Because the committee questionnaire did not include instructions, I based my answers on my understanding of the requested information. After the Committee requested more information, I clarified my answers according to the Committee's guidance. In some instances, I listed the same assets but in different categories. In other instances, I included more detailed figures based on the Committee's requests and updated information I received from my financial advisors. On March 26, 2009, I met with majority and minority Committee staff and explained these issues in detail.
Questions Asked And Answered Still...
On Thursday, April 2, 2009, Tammy Duckworth, after supplying the above answers, tried to contact the Senator Burr's office. There was no response from the Senator's office, and he continues to hold up the Duckworth nomination, even though he has the answers to the questions he posed.
Those Who Can Make Things Happen
Senate Veterans Affairs Committee (
Senate Russell Building 412
Washington, DC. 20510
Majority (202) 224-9126
Senate Hart Building 143
Washington, DC. 20510
Minority (202) 224-2074
Senator Daniel K. Akaka, HI CHAIRMAN (http://akaka.senate.gov/)
Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, WV (http://rockefeller.senate.gov/)
Senator Patty Murray, WA (http://murray.senate.gov/)
Senator Sherrod Brown, OH (http://brown.senate.gov/)
Senator Jim Webb, VA (http://webb.senate.gov/)
Senator Jon Tester, MT (http://tester.senate.gov/)
Senator Mark Begich, AK (http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/senators/one_item_and_teasers/begich.htm)
Senator Roland Burris, IL (http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/senators/one_item_and_teasers/burris.htm)
Senator Bernard Sanders, VT (http://sanders.senate.gov/)
Senator Richard Burr, NC, RANKING MEMBER (http://burr.senate.gov/)
Senator Arlen Specter, PA (http://specter.senate.gov/)
Senator Johnny Isakson, GA (http://isakson.senate.gov/)
Senator Roger Wicker, MS (http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/senators/one_item_and_teasers/wicker.htm)
Senator Mike Johanns, NE (http://johanns.senate.gov/public/index.cfm)
Senator Lindsey Graham, SC (http://lgraham.senate.gov/)
--- Regards, Walt Schmidt