Updated 7:35 p.m.
Tammy Duckworth, an Iraq war veteran and double amputee whose war injuries gave her a special understanding of veterans issues, is stepping down as an assistant secretary at the Department of Veterans Affairs and plans to return to her home state of Illinois, administration officials confirmed Monday.
In a statement, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric K. Shinseki confirmed Duckworth’s departure and said she “has served the Department of Veterans Affairs with distinction. Her unwavering dedication to veterans and their families has strengthened VA’s ability to perform our mission—providing veterans the healthcare and benefits they have earned.
“Tammy Duckworth uniquely understands the needs of today’s veterans and their families, and her commitment to serving Veterans and increasing VA’s outreach has helped the department serve more Veterans and serve them well,” Shinseki said. “We will miss her advocacy and leadership, but wish her the very best in the years to come.”
VA aides said that Duckworth was on official travel Monday and unavailable for comment. They declined to speak further about her plans, citing the law that bans political activity in the federal workplace.
News reports from the Land of Lincoln say Duckworth is expected to run for a congressional seat from the state’s 8th Congressional District, which President Obama won with 62 percent of the vote in 2008. The state’s redistricting plans are awaiting the final approval of Gov. Pat Quinn (D), and appear to favor Democrats in several areas.
In 2004 while on a helicopter mission over Iraq, an insurgent shot down the Army Black Hawk helicopter Duckworth was co-piloting. Though Duckworth and her co-pilot successfully landed her Blackhawk helicopter before being pulled to safety, she lost both legs in the aftermath.
While recovering at Walter Reed Medical Center, she met then-U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, who visited her several times. An outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s Iraq war policy, Rahm Emanuel, then in his role as head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, recruited her to run for the seat of Rep. Henry Hyde (R), but she ultimately lost to Peter Roskam (R). Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) later appointed her as the state’s veterans affairs director.
She joined the Obama administration in early 2009 and though she was outranked by Shinseki and Deputy Secretary W. Scott Gould, Duckworth emerged as the most prominent VA spokeswoman, often sharing her story of survival with veterans young and old.
In a 2009 interview, she wouldn’t rule out taking a more senior government position and said she would run again for elected office if the right opportunity emerged.
No date for Duckworth’s departure from the VA has been set, aides said Monday.
Staff writer Aaron Blake contributed to this report.