Iraq war veteran and failed congressional candidate Tammy Duckworth has a new mission: directing the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs, Gov. Rod Blagojevich announced Tuesday.

Leading the agency was a logical next step following a losing bid to replace retiring Republican Rep. Henry Hyde, said Duckworth, a Democrat and former Army helicopter pilot who lost her legs after a rocket-propelled grenade attack north of Baghdad.

"As a soldier I fought for my country, and now I thank Governor Blagojevich for giving me the opportunity to fight for my fellow Illinois veterans," Duckworth said in a news release.

Duckworth's experiences as a soldier and rank as a major in the Illinois Army National Guard will help her run the department that handles benefits, education and nursing care for veterans and their families, Blagojevich said.

"She has been an inspiration to people all over the country, showing extraordinary personal strength and speaking out on behalf of soldiers who are coming home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan," Blagojevich said in a news release.

Duckworth, 38, lost the congressional race earlier this month to Republican State Sen. Peter Roskam.

Duckworth's first priority is to boost enrollment in the state's Veterans Care program, which would help more than 9,000 Illinois veterans who don't qualify for federal aid, the governor said. As of last week, only 14 people had enrolled in the program in 75 days, with an additional 19 applications pending, according to the Blagojevich administration.

Duckworth's appointment to the $102,000-a-year-job is scheduled to begin Dec. 15 and still needs confirmation from the state Senate.