WASHINGTON — On Monday, Veterans Day, Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., a wounded Iraq war vet, will cross the border from California to Mexico to visit a facility in Tijuana helping veterans deported in this Trump era.
On Tuesday, in Washington, Duckworth will celebrate her 15th “Alive Day.” That’s the anniversary of the day she almost died after a rocket-propelled grenade ripped through the cockpit of her Black Hawk helicopter flying over Iraq on Nov. 12, 2004. She lost her legs and partial use of her right arm in that attack.
As Duckworth put it in a tweet on her “Alive Day” last year, “I was quite literally in pieces, but my buddies risked their lives and refused to leave me behind. Every day I think about what they did for me and what I can do to repay them. Making sure I don’t let them down is what drives me to do everything I can for our Veterans and troops.”
That’s why Duckworth has made veterans issues the centerpiece of her congressional portfolio, first in the House and now in the Senate.
Last week Duckworth introduced bills dealing with veterans health and child care, suicide, homelessness and contraception access. Her “Veterans Visa and Protection Act,” proposed earlier, would ban the deportation of non-citizen vets convicted of nonviolent offenses and put them on a path to citizenship based on their military service.
En route to San Diego on Sunday, Veterans Day eve — on a non-official portion of this trip — Duckworth will stop in Houston for about four hours to introduce rock ‘n’ roll star Joe Walsh, the famed guitarist for The Eagles’ at his 3rd annual VetsAid 2019 music festival, with proceeds going to charities serving vets.
Duckworth has been fighting President Donald Trump’s policy of deporting non-citizens who are military veterans who are guilty — after they have served — of nonviolent offenses.
“And on top of everything else, many of them have honorable discharges from the military but can’t get their V.A. benefits, which they’re entitled to,” Duckworth told me in an interview.
A case in the news recently has been the plight of Miguel Perez Jr., an Army veteran raised in Chicago who was deported to Mexico last year following a 2010 felony drug conviction.
Eventually, Perez had a good outcome: a pardon from Gov. J.B. Pritzker cleared the way for him to become a citizen. He was sworn-in at a ceremony in Chicago last month.
That doesn’t happen for every deported vet. On Monday, Duckworth will visit the Deported Veterans Support House in Tijuana.
“This is a place where — it sort of illustrates what veterans do, which is they come together to help each other,” Duckworth said.
The deported vets “have created this almost a safe house where, (with) other veterans who have been dumped on by the Trump administration, they go and they reach out and they pull these guys in and they give them even a place to sleep for the night, because (some vets) show up with nothing and need help to navigate being basically in a foreign country.”
Duckworth is concerned about problems the deported vets are having accessing the V.A. benefits they earned.
“I can’t even imagine what it would be like to try to navigate today’s system from, you know, outside the country. And so I wanted to go here because I wanted to see how this place operates and to see what I could do to bring V.A. services into Mexico for the vets.
“Miguel Perez talked about how when he was in Mexico, he couldn’t access his medications, for example, which he was entitled to, but he couldn’t get.”
I asked Duckworth about how she was going to mark her 15th “Alive Day.”
Duckworth is still tracking down everyone who played a role in her chain of rescue, including hospital personnel. She recently connected with a nurse who cared for her in the emergency room in Baghdad. He’s now stationed at Fort Belvoir in the Virginia suburbs, and she will be meeting him on Tuesday.
She will be taking her buddies to the Library of Congress for a program on the Declaration of Independence.
Said Duckworth, “My whole crew is coming out here to D.C. So it’s our first time to really be all of us together at the same time.”