A non-partisan U.S. veterans group stepped up calls for a Republican congressman to resign Thursday after he openly berated his double-amputee political rival for talking up her Iraq War injuries.
Representative Joe Walsh of Illinois enraged veterans with comments about Tammy Duckworth, a decorated U.S. Army pilot who in 2004 lost both her legs and nearly died when the Blackhawk helicopter she was co-piloting was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade fired by Iraqi insurgents.
On Sunday, Walsh told a town hall meeting that he was "running against a woman who -- I mean, my God, that's all she talks about," he said, claiming his Democratic opponent played on her injuries to score political points in public.
"Our true heroes, the men and women who served us, that's the last thing in the world they talk about," he added.
Walsh, who reportedly has not served in the military, repeated his criticism on Wednesday.
"She is a hero, and that demands our respect, but it doesn't demand our vote," he told CNN. "All she does, guys, is talk about her service."
The series of comments led VoteVets.org, a political action committee which supports veterans issues, to demand Walsh step down.
"He needs to just resign and stop embarrassing his constituents," VoteVets chairman Jon Soltz, himself an Iraq War veteran, said on MSNBC on Thursday.
"The guy has no idea what it means to be in the military, what it means to serve," he said, adding that Duckworth continues to serve as a lieutenant colonel in the Illinois National Guard and does seek to gain from her injuries.
"The fact is she has no legs, and it's obviously very noticeable, and that's a huge part of who she is," Soltz said.
Duckworth has served as assistant secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs under President Barack Obama. The Iraq veteran's congressional campaign said Walsh's comments "insult those who sacrificed to make this country free."
Duckworth said this week that her wounds "do inform my discussions with the constituents when I talk about health care," particularly in the debate over Obama's landmark health care reforms that are opposed by most Republicans.
In 2006, Duckworth lost her bid for a congressional seat by about 2.5 percent of the vote.