The Harkin Summit: Innovating for Inclusion

Doubling Disability Employment In A Changing Landscape

Keynote Speaker: Tammy Duckworth, U.S. Senator for Illinois

U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth is an Iraq War Veteran, Purple Heart recipient and former Assistant Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs. She was among the first Army women to fly combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Duckworth served in the Reserve Forces for 23 years before retiring from military service in 2014 at the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. She was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2016 after representing Illinois’s Eighth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives for two terms.

Duckworth attended college at the University of Hawaii and earned a Master of Arts in International Affairs from the George Washington University. Following graduation, Duckworth, who is fluent in Thai and Indonesian, moved to Illinois and began pursuing a Ph.D. in Political Science at Northern Illinois University. She also worked at NIU’s School of Nursing researching public health and environmental causes of cancer. Later, Duckworth worked for Rotary International as a manager for administration of Rotary clubs in the Asia Pacific Region.

In 2004, Duckworth was deployed to Iraq as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot for the Illinois Army National Guard. On November 12, 2004, her helicopter was hit by an RPG and Duckworth lost her legs and partial use of her right arm.

Senator Duckworth spent the next year recovering at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where she quickly became an advocate for her fellow Soldiers and testified before Congress about caring for our Veterans and wounded warriors. Following her recovery, she became Director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, working to create a tax credit for employers who hired Veterans, establish a first-inthe-nation 24/7 Veterans crisis hotline and develop innovative programs to improve Veterans’ access to housing and health care.

In 2009, President Obama appointed Duckworth to be Assistant Secretary of Veterans Affairs. At VA, Duckworth coordinated the joint initiative with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to end Veteran homelessness. She also created the Office of Online Communications to improve the VA’s accessibility, especially among young Veterans, and also worked to address the unique challenges that Native American and female Veterans face.

Since her recovery, Duckworth has resumed flying as a civilian pilot and fulfilled a promise she made at Walter Reed by completing several marathons. In her spare time, she volunteers at local food pantries and enjoys couponing and flea markets. In 2015, Duckworth completed her Ph.D. in Human Services at Capella University.

In the U.S. House, Duckworth was an advocate for working families and job creation, introducing bills like her bipartisan Friendly Airports for Mothers Act to ensure new mothers have access to safe, clean and accessible lactation rooms when traveling through airports, which passed the Senate. She introduced the In the Red Act to help put our nation on the path toward debt-free college, the Get the Lead Out Act to keep America’s drinking water safe and bipartisan legislation to help close the skills gap while helping people find good-paying jobs. Duckworth also co-sponsored the No Budget, No Pay Act, which would ensure members of Congress only get paid if they pass a budget.

She also served on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where she was Ranking Member of the Transportation and Public Assets subcommittee. She introduced and helped pass several important policies through her work on these committees, including the Clay Hunt SAV Act to help reduce Veteran suicide and improve VA mental health services and the Troop Talent Act which helps returning Veterans find jobs in the private sector. She also effectively cut waste and fraud at the Pentagon and throughout government, including passing a common-sense provision to reduce redundancy in Armed Forces uniforms that the nonpartisan U.S. Government Accountability Office found will save taxpayers more than $4 billion over 5 years.

In the U.S. Senate, Duckworth serves on several influential committees that give her an important platform to advocate for Illinois’s working families and entrepreneurs: the Environment & Public Works Committee; the Energy & Natural Resources Committee; the Commerce, Science, & Transportation Committee; and the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Committee. As Senator, she advocates for practical, common-sense solutions needed to move our country and our state forward like: rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, keeping our water systems safe and lead-free, growing manufacturing jobs while supporting minority-owned small businesses, investing in communities that have been ignored for too long, and making college more affordable for all Americans. And Duckworth continues with her lifelong mission of supporting, protecting and keeping the promises we’ve made to our Veterans as well as ensuring that we stand fully behind the troops we send into danger overseas.

Senator Duckworth and her husband Bryan are the proud parents of two daughters, Abigail and Maile.