During a radio appearance Monday, Veterans Affairs whistleblowers Germaine Clarno and Dr. Lisa Nee claimed that Rep. Tammy Duckworth did little to respond to their claims of mistreatment of veterans and corruption within the Hines VA.
According to their allegations, Duckworth was largely unresponsive to evidence related to veteran mistreatment and inadequate investigations conducted by the VA's inspector general.
Clarno claimed that, although she approached Duckworth "many" times, the congresswoman did little to respond to her claims.
"I never felt that [Duckworth] wanted to hear exactly what was going on," Clarno said. “I really thought going to Tammy Duckworth, that she would be the one who would stand up and say this has got to stop.”
Duckworth, a combat veteran who lost her legs co-piloting a helicopter in Iraq, held high-ranking positions in the VA before entering politics. She served as Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs from 2006 to 2009 and later as Assistant Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs in the US Department of Veterans Affairs from 2009 to 2011.
Duckworth's camp dispelled the whistleblower's claims in a statement.
"Since receiving troubling reports from Ms. Clarno regarding Hines VA, [Duckworth] has doggedly pursued them by helping launch a VA Office of Inspector General (OIG) investigation and a separate review by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the independent federal agency tasked with protecting federal whistleblowers, among several other actions," Duckworth spokesman Ben Garmisa said.
According to a 2014 report, the VA office of the Inspector General conducted an inspection to assess allegations that dealt with cardiovascular care at the Hines VA. The inspection was at the request of Duckworth and Sen. Dick Durbin.
The Duckworth camp claims the congresswoman had called for an investigation into the Office of Inspector General's transparency record prior to allegations made by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel that the VA was stonewalling whistleblowers.
"Retaliation against whistleblowers is not acceptable to her and she is seeking a face-to-face meeting with VA Secretary Robert McDonald to highlight the critical importance of protecting them," Garmisa said.
Duckworth also faces charges of retaliation against two employees at the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs. The employees filed complaints alleging mistreatment and abuse of veterans at IDVA facilities during Duckworth's tenure. Trial is set to begin on April 4.
Duckworth, who currently represents Illinois' 8th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, will face Urban League CEO and President Andrea Zopp as well as state Sen. Napoleon Harris in the March 15 Democratic primary for Mark Kirk's U.S. Senate seat.
Incumbent Kirk will face Oswego businessman James Marter in the March 15 Republican primary.
Clarno and Nee claimed that Kirk was helpful in responding to their concerns.
"If I would've gone to him two years previously, who knows what lives could've been saved," Clarno said.
Kirk's camp lauded the whistleblowers and condemned Duckworth's inaction.
“The accounts of these courageous whistleblowers detail yet another chapter of Rep. Duckworth silencing critics to protect the bureaucracy, her own legacy and her party," Kirk spokesman Kevin Artl said in a statement. "As a member of Congress, Rep. Duckworth has a responsibility to care for the most vulnerable, but when it came time for her to protect our veterans from the corruption and mismanagement at the VA, she failed."
Despite the allegations, Duckworth holds a sizable lead in the race for the Democratic nomination.
A poll conducted by Lincoln Park Strategies between Feb. 4-7, found Duckworth received 64 percent of support while Zopp received 6 percent and Harris received 3 percent. The poll was conducted for Harris.
An additional poll, conducted by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, found Duckworth receiving 52 percent of support from self-identified Democrats with Zopp receiving 6 percent and Harris receiving 4 percent.