CHICAGO – Hillary Clinton on Thursday denounced the deep federal spending cuts known as the sequester for dangerously hindering scientific research, and she urged “citizen action” to raise awareness about the consequences.

Addressing a charity benefit dinner in Chicago for Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy, the former secretary of state made a rare foray into the budget battles that have paralyzed Washington in recent years. She said the estimated $1.7 billion in cuts to the National Institutes of Health budget would result in 2,000 fewer research grants, and she warned that thousands of scientists and research staffers likely would lose their jobs.

“In the days and months ahead, all of us who care deeply about finding a cure for [epilepsy] and other diseases need to be very loud and passionate about the continued research funding that is necessary,” Clinton said. “I do think there has to be a greater awareness on the part of the American people about what this will mean – not just today or next week, but in years to come.”

She added, “I would certainly encourage a lot of citizen action to bring attention to the cuts in research funding and the consequences that that will cause.”

Clinton, a potential Democratic presidential candidate in 2016, did not assign blame for the sequester to either President Obama or congressional Republicans. Rather, she condemned Washington at large.

Clinton’s remarks came hours after she addressed the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in Chicago and outlined her future role with her family’s charitable foundation, saying she would focus on early childhood development, expanding opportunities for women and girls and economic development.

Clinton was honored Thursday night at a gala for CURE, the epilepsy charity founded more than a decade ago by David Axelrod, Obama’s chief political strategist, and his wife Susan. For the former first lady, who headlined the charity’s inaugural benefit in 1999, Thursday’s dinner before about 1,000 people in a ballroom on this city’s Navy Pier was a homecoming of sorts.

David Axelrod hailed Clinton as “a very special champion” who, as first lady, helped raise awareness of epilepsy by organizing the first-ever White House conference on the disease.

In her 25-minute speech, Clinton urged people to continue to humanize epilepsy and stand against the stigma and dispel the stereotypes that still surround the disease. She grew emotional as she described having visited patients and witnessed them have epileptic seizures.

“You’re just left with a feeling of being overwhelmingly confused and unsure about what to do, and all too often in the past people have averted their faces, walked by, walked around, assumed that what was happening was drunkenness or, in recent times, drugs,” Clinton said. “But for those families, and those people that are suffering from those uncontrollable seizures that take over one’s body, it’s just a terror that is hard to describe.”