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Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who lost both legs when the Army helicopter she was piloting in Iraq was shot down by insurgents in 2005, called shame on a Virginia business man granted a Department of Veterans Affairs disability for a prep-school football injury that he claimed was earned defending the country.
Braulio Castillo, president of Strong Castle -- an information technology company based in Leesburg, Va. -- testified on Wednesday after a congressional investigation found his service-disabled veteran status stemmed from a 1984 ankle injury suffered while playing football at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School.
Castillo, who applied for his disability in 2012 shortly after buying the company, told Duckworth he believed he deserves his VA disability.
Duckworth didn't agree. She took particular exception to Castillo implying in a letter to the Small Business Administration that his disability was the result of active-duty military service as she chastised him for using his service-disabled veteran status to gain an advantage when competing for federal contracts.
"My family and I have made considerable sacrifices for our country," Duckworth read from Castillo's letter. "My service connected disability status should stand as a testimony to that end." In the letter, Castillo goes on to claim he cannot take walks with his children and takes pain medication twice a day, and says "These are crosses that I bear due to my service to our great country, and I would do it again to protect this great country."
Duckworth then launched into a lengthy tongue-lashing of Castillo, accusing him of misleading the American people.
"I'm so glad you would be willing to play football in prep-school again to protect this great country," Duckworth said. "Shame on you, Mr. Castillo. Shame on you. You may not have broken any laws. We're not sure yet … But you certainly broke the trust of this great nation."
Castillo's biography on the company website states that he attended West Point Preparatory School. He said he was later honorably discharged from the Army after serving as an enlisted soldier.
Duckworth said that should the time come that VA budgets are rolled back because of public mistrust of how the money is spent, Castillo will bear some responsibility.
In a statement on Thursday, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said it applauded Duckworth's comments and agreed that cases such as Castillo's "jeopardize the health care and disability benefits for all the veterans who have served our country honorably."
"Veterans of all generations are waiting for the support they need and deserve from the VA," IAVA Chief of Staff Derek Bennett said. "Abuse of that system forces our veterans to wait longer and could cause public opinion to turn against these critical programs."
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