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MSNBC "The Rachel Maddow Show" - Transcript - VA and Budget

Interview

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MADDOW: [...] Joining us now is Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth of Illinois. She`s an
Iraq war veteran. She lost both legs while serving as an Army helicopter
in Iraq. She later served as secretary for public and intergovernmental
affairs at the V.A. before becoming a member of Congress.

Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth, it`s great to have you here. Thanks
for being here tonight.

REP. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D), ILLINOIS: It`s great to be on. Thanks for
having me, Rachel.

MADDOW: You can probably hear me getting all riled up, being pissed
about people taking advantage of how we feel toward our veterans when we`re
not getting what we promised them, either in the charitable context or in
the programmatic context.

Having served in the V.A., being a veteran yourself, now being in
Congress, how do you feel overall about how we`re doing toward Iraq and
Afghanistan veterans?

DUCKWORTH: I think we could be doing so much better, Rachel. I do
think we`re going better for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans than we did for
Vietnam veterans, but that was a pretty low bar.

The fact of the matter is, we have on over 2 million veterans created
as a result of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we`re simply not
living up to the promises that we`ve made of them. We can do better.
You know, we`re not providing the jobs that we need to give to them.
We`re not helping them with housing. Sequestration is going to cut
homeless programs. Women veterans do need a lot of help.

I think we`ve done better than we have in a long time. But we`ve got
a long way to go.

MADDOW: On the issue of the sequester and on the issue of the V.A.
backlog, I know you served in the V.A. for a long time.

DUCKWORTH: Yes.

MADDOW: You`ve seen those problems up close.
Do you feel those are issues on which Congress sort of has an obvious
way forward? Where it is clear that Congress itself could do more to make
those problems right? Or are these problems so complicated that
congressional action isn`t necessarily the clearest way forward?

DUCKWORTH: You know, Rachel, on the backlog, I don`t think it`s a
congressional action issue. I think it is simply a capacity issue. The
V.A. is clearing a lot of the backlogs. But the problem is, they`re
getting more new ones that it`s taking them twice as long to get through
them.

That`s not acceptable. The V.A. has talked for years about the use of
electronic records and the handoff of electronic -- V.A. electronic records
of troops on DOD to V.A. That still hasn`t happened. It`s better off than
where it was, but still not where it needs to be.

And now, we have the DOD that has -- because of the sequestration,
decided they`re going to end their portion of the software program that
would allow them to be able to be in that seamless transition from DOD to
V.A. So, whatever gains we`ve made in the last three or four years is now
going away because sequestration and DOD is canceling their side of it.

MADDOW: Obviously, the specific program that I talked about in terms
of the educational grant for service member`s children, service members who
were killed in the wars, the tuition assistance to service members right
now in terms of their own education, those things getting cut are directly
because of the sequester, addressing the sequester would address those
things, do you think that they should be fixed even if the rest of the
sequester shouldn`t be fixed? Should we privilege service members and
veterans needs like that, even if we can`t fix everything else?

DUCKWORTH: Well, I`m actually, Rachel, going to be -- one of the
cosigners of a letter to the secretary to ask him to please fix this issue
with the tuition regardless on where sequestration is.

MADDOW: OK. You know, it is -- it is 10 years today from the date
that we invaded Iraq. And you and I have talked a number of times,
politics in the Iraq war and the way that there`s a real distance between
those of us who didn`t fight and those of you who did and who sacrificed so
much and whose families have sacrificed so much. Ten years out, what do
you feel like the lessons are that we still need to learn as a country in
terms of how we got into that war and how we behave once we were there?

DUCKWORTH: I think the lesson with we need to learn here, Rachel, is
real questioning honest discussion and real questioning of the information
that`s being given to you. I feel very strongly that in the run up to
Iraq, not only were the American people lied to, but members of congress
were lied to.

In fact, I call it a hostage situation. I think a lot of members of
Congress voted for the war because they were being threatened and had their
patriotism questioned. As if, you know, you were not a true American if
you wanted to know exactly what was going to be happening. I think that we
are in a better place now than then.

I hope that as we talk about Iran and Syria and other places where
people want to just push American troops onto the ground, that we have a
real honest discussion. And, you know, Rachel, I`ve said this to you
before, it`s one of the reasons why I ran for Congress because I`m going to
be here, along with my fellow veterans, to say we`re going to have a real
discussion.

When you sound the drumbeats for war, let me tell you what it`s going
to cost. A trillion dollars spent in Iraq, over 4,000 troops who have laid
down their lives to this nation, tens of thousands wounded, and we will be
caring for our veterans for the next 60 years. That`s going to cost this
country by 2020 -- that`s seven years from now -- $8 billion a year just
for the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

It is a cost that this nation is willing to bear to care for our vets,
but let`s have a true understanding of what war really costs this nation.

MADDOW: Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, an Iraq war
veteran who knows that cost, very much personally -- thank you so much for
your time tonight. It`s nice to see you tonight in particular.

DUCKWORTH: Thank you, Rachel.

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