Honor Respect, Devotion to Duty: Dave Riley

Former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, Dave Riley, poses with Coast Guard members during a ceremony where he was named the national commander for the Disabled American Veterans nonprofit. Photo by Kollage Photography/ Howard J Rookard.

Former Coast Guard rescue swimmer, Dave Riley, poses with Coast Guard members during a ceremony where he was named the national commander for the Disabled American Veterans nonprofit. Photo by Kollage Photography/ Howard J Rookard.

Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Connie Terrell

“The DAV is what saved my life – a couple times,” said Dave Riley, the new national commander for the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) nonprofit.

Dave Riley is named the national commander for the Disabled American Veterans nonprofit during a ceremony in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo courtesy of Steven Wilson.

Dave Riley was named the national commander for the Disabled American Veterans nonprofit during a ceremony in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo courtesy of Steven Wilson.

The DAV, founded in 1920, provides veterans injured while serving their country resources, such as assistance with benefit claims and free rides to medical appointments. The organization also lobbies Congress to ensure the veterans are taken care of.

Riley, a former Coast Guard rescue swimmer and Army veteran, was recently named the national commander at the 2016 National Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. He is the first Coast Guardsman to hold the position.

After serving four years in the Army, Riley decided to join the Coast Guard in 1983 and become one of the first Coast Guard rescue swimmers to go through school.

His journey with DAV began when he was still in the Coast Guard, albeit he was lying in a hospital bed with the thrill of jumping out of a Coast Guard helicopter quickly becoming more of a memory than a career option. This would be the first time he credits the organization saving his life.

While stationed at Coast Guard Aviation Training Center Mobile, Alabama, Riley contracted sepsis, a life-threatening infection. Riley said it was the first day of a long-overdue vacation when it all began. He spent three months in the hospital, lost all four of his limbs and several organs and also suffered damage to other internal organs.

Dave Riley poses for a photo with a bale of confiscated drugs when he was still an active duty Coast Guard rescue swimmer. Photo courtesy of Dave Riley.

Dave Riley poses for a photo with a bale of confiscated drugs when he was still an active duty Coast Guard rescue swimmer. Photo courtesy of Dave Riley.

Riley said a DAV service officer came in and helped guide him through all the treacherous paperwork that followed. They also ensured he received all the support he needed as he transitioned out of military life.

“I didn’t have to worry about money or putting my kids through school,” said Riley.

His fellow Coast Guardsmen also pitched in.

“The chiefs came and put a ramp in at my house and people across the Coast Guard donated money to help me buy a van,” Riley said. “The Coast Guard’s always been there for me.”

Following his medical retirement from the Coast Guard, Riley went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in computer science and started his own business.

It was during this time where the DAV would come to his rescue once again. Riley began struggling with depression.

“I was at a [DAV] chapter meeting in Mobile and people saw what I was going through,” Riley said.

Photo courtesy of Dave Riley.

Photo courtesy of Dave Riley.

The DAV helped Riley get into the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic in Aspen, Colorado. The clinic offers adaptive winter sports instruction to disabled veterans. Riley was trained and fitted for a ski and down the hill he went.

“That’s what saved me,” said Riley. “That’s what pulled me out. I got that adrenaline back and realized I could still do things.”

From there Riley shut down his business and began working for the DAV.

“I always felt I owed the DAV,” Riley said.

Photo courtesy of Steven Wilson.

Photo courtesy of Steven Wilson.

Working for the DAV allowed Riley to mentor fellow injured service members and helps support them through their recovery and rehabilitation – to give back all the help he received from the organization when he needed it most.

In 2010 he was named the DAV Outstanding Disabled Veteran of the Year for his dedication to his fellow ill and injured veterans. He was the first Coast Guardsman to receive the award.

After working his way through the ranks of DAV, just as he had done previously in the military, and winning an election, Riley is now busier than ever as the DAV national commander.

His focus: to continue ensuring disabled veterans can live their lives with respect and dignity and that they receive all the promises made to them.

In 2015, DAV, which currently has 1.3 million members, helped attain more than $4 billion in new and retroactive benefits to care for veterans, their families and survivors.

Photos courtesy of Dave Riley.

Photos courtesy of Dave Riley.

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