Duckworth recalls Obama at Walter Reed
By Ed O'Keefe
President Obama made his first visit to Walter Reed Army Medical Center as commander in chief on Friday, but one administration official recalls seeing him there several times as a senator.
"He visited my hospital bed in the middle of the night as a junior senator," Veterans Affairs Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth recalled during a recent interview for a forthcoming profile.
Duckworth lost both of her legs five years ago next week after her Army Blackhawk helicopter was shot out of the skies over Baghdad. She recuperated at Walter Reed and joined VA in April as head of public affairs and intergovernmental affairs.
In her new role, Duckworth regularly quotes Obama's statement that, "American has a covenant to keep with her veterans," or a deep responsibility to ensure vets receive the benefits and services they need. She travels at least twice a week to meet with veterans groups or visit patients at VA hospitals, is partly responsible for leading an internal reorganization and regularly provides customer feedback as a high-profile recipient of VA benefits and services.
Duckworth admitted she cannot remember many details of her stay at Walter Reed, but said Obama visited her at least three times without staff in the evenings. He would ask about her recovery, asked questions about her unit still deployed in Iraq and if she had any other concerns about other veterans at the hospital.
"That's why I'm working in this administration, because when I was laying in a hospital bed, that senator came through and spent a lot of time talking to me about what VA soldiers needed, and listened to me about what younger soldiers needed," Duckworth said.
"They were very personal conversations and he did that not just for me but for anybody else who was there," she added. But Duckworth also met frequently with former senator Robert Dole (R-Kan.) and Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), who later helped launch her ultimately unsuccessful bid for an Illinois congressional seat in 2006.
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