FORT GORDON, GA. -- Tammy Duckworth apologized for making family members cry at a luncheon at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center Monday.
The Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs for the Department of Veterans Affairs said she often gets a positive tearful response when she asks how well family members have been taken care of as they seek to care for the nation's heroes.
One mother of a servicemember praised the social worker who she first met at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Washington D.C., and who continues to call her once a week although her son is now at the Charlie Norwood VA.
"Everyone needs a social worker," said the woman, as she wiped her tears away.
Other family members in the room had tears as they listened to her testimony.
When asked for a comment, a spouse simply said the mother had said it all.
While few spoke about their care, the ones who did had nothing but praise.
"I'm a brain injury patient," said one Soldier. "They helped me and dealt with me in a professional manner." He thanked his doctors and the staff in the active duty rehabilitation unit.
Duckworth, who was appointed to her position by President Barack H. Obama in the spring of 2009, toured the hospital with Sen. Johnny Isakson.
"I came here three years ago," said Isakson. "I came to the uptown VA and went to Fort Gordon. I saw what was happening. What's happening here is a template for others to follow."
He first told Duckworth about the two hospitals and the partnership between Department of Defense and the Department of Veterans Affairs not long after her appointment.
Duckworth visited the VA's active-duty gym as well as the inpatient wing dedicated to active-duty servicemembers of all branches not just the Army. At the luncheon, she wanted to know what the VA was doing right so it could be duplicated other places and what it was doing wrong.
"My job is the same as a NCO or officer, I take care of Soldiers," she said. "We have a great opportunity here."
Duckworth knew a lot about DoD and VA medical facilities long before she was appointed to her position within the VA.
A major in the Illinois Army National Guard, Duckworth was flying a Blackhawk helicopter in November 2004 when a rocket-propelled grenade hit the helicopter and exploded in her lap. She lost both legs at the hips and lost partial use of her right arm.
But she has fought back. She recently received her FAA license to fly; she ran in the Chicago marathon; and she's back in the National Guard.