His IT job didn't measure up to the excitement of his Coast Guard one. So he changed that.

Dave Riley has always been an adrenaline-chaser — and he probably always will be.

His love for adventure started with his life in the military, which was nothing short of thrilling. With a father in the Army, the military was always in Dave's blood. So he joined the Army himself, and then transferred to the Coast Guard, where he took on one of the most difficult, high-stakes jobs available — that of a search-and-rescue swimmer.

Photo courtesy of Dave Riley.


"It's still the best job I ever had," he says. "At any moment, an alarm could go off, and you would go and do whatever needed to be done. Anything from cliff rescues to surf rescues, boats going down to sailboats, you know, there's a lot of high adrenaline. It's a high-energy type job."

After he was transferred to Mobile, Alabama, Dave contracted an infection from bacteria in the water that made him gravely ill. He became septic and fell into a coma.

When he awoke, all four of his limbs had been removed in order to help him survive.

Photo via DAV (Disabled American Veterans).

At first, Dave felt that his life was over. He couldn't see a way forward for himself in his new body.

After the sepsis was eliminated, Dave recovered gradually and went back to school to get his bachelor's and master's degrees in computer science. But depression plagued him, caused both by his disability and uncertainty over what do with his life. He opened his own IT company in Alabama, but it just wasn't fulfilling to him in the same way his life in the military had been.

"I'd turned my hobby into a job, and then I hated it," he says.

Photo via DAV.

It was his caregiver and his community that helped Dave chart a new path forward.

Yvonne, Dave's wife, has been with him every step of the way. In fact, it had fallen to Yvonne to make the decision to amputate his limbs — a choice that saved his life but also altered it forever.

"Yvonne has been my caregiver for 30 years, really," Dave laughs. "20 years disabled, but she's been taking care of me for much longer than that."

Photo courtesy of Dave Riley.

Dave also became involved with DAV (Disabled American Veterans), a nonprofit charity that helps veterans get the benefits they earned, like health care, education, and disability, and overcome challenges like finding meaningful employment. Through them, Dave found a community, he learned ways to be active and play sports, and he met people who helped him learn how he could live the life he wanted.

As DAV began helping Dave heal, he decided that he wanted to help others do the same thing.

He became a volunteer with the organization, taking on more and more responsibility and working his way up through the ranks. He retired from his job as a computer analyst and turned to working with DAV full time, ultimately becoming DAV national commander.

Throughout the year, Dave and Yvonne travel all around the country to attend conferences and events, to visit with the military, and to speak to veterans with disabilities and their families.

Photo courtesy of Dave Riley.

Under Dave's leadership, DAV continues to do the work of identifying and reaching out to struggling veterans with disabilities and helping them see a way forward in life.

He's also made it his mission to help not just veterans, but also their caregivers get the benefits that they need. Right now, only caregivers of veterans injured after 9/11 receive the comprehensive caregiver benefits the VA offers — including respite care, financial assistance, training, and health and education benefits. In February 2017, Dave testified in front of Congress about the depth of service caregivers provide severely disabled veterans and how we should thank and honor them properly by giving them the support they need to carry out the selfless work they have dedicated themselves to:  

"Family caregivers are critical members of a veteran’s health care team — they are unsung American heroes who often sacrifice their own health, well-being, employment, educational and other life goals and opportunities—to care for their loved ones."

Photo via DAV.

Many of the obstacles veterans with disabilities face when they return home are physical, but many are not. The caregivers and community members that surround returning military personnel with love and support are an essential part of veterans' healing.

When a veteran is first injured, there can often be a period of darkness and uncertainty, and we don't always get to see the beautiful stories unfold of people like Dave and Yvonne who have found great meaning in their work post-service. Under Dave's leadership, DAV will continue to help provide the support that veterans need to write those stories of success.

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Whenever someone's words or behavior are called out as racist, a few predictable responses always follow. One is to see the word "racist" as a vicious personal attack. Two is to vehemently deny that whatever was said or done was racist. And three is to pull out the dictionary definition of racism to prove that the words or behavior weren't racist.

Honestly, as soon as someone refers to the dictionary when discussing racism, it's clear that person has never delved deeply into trying to understand racism. It's a big old red flag, every time.

I'm not an expert on race relations, but I've spent many years learning from people who are. And I've learned that the reality of racism is nuanced and complex, and resorting to a short dictionary definition completely ignores that fact. The dictionary can't include all of the ways racism manifests in individuals and society, and the limitations of dictionary definitions make it a poor tool for discussing the topic.

Since "racism" is such a loaded term for many people, let's look at such limitations through a different complex word. Let's take "anxiety." According to Merriam-Webster, "anxiety" is defined as "apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness, usually over an impending or anticipated ill."

Now imagine thinking that you understand everything that encompasses anxiety from reading that dictionary definition. Imagine thinking you could recognize the signs of anxiety in someone based on that definition alone. Ridiculous, right? The dictionary doesn't explain that some people's anxiety manifests as anger, even though it does. It doesn't say that anxiety sometimes manifests as withdrawal or aloofness. It doesn't say that you often won't see obvious signs of fear or nervousness in someone experiencing anxiety.

The dictionary doesn't offer anything close to the reality of what anxiety is or looks like. It would be silly to say that someone isn't experiencing anxiety because they're not clearly showing signs of nervousness like the dictionary definition implies. Just as the dictionary definition of anxiety is not comprehensive, neither is the dictionary definition of racism. Yet people keep using it to "prove" that something or someone isn't racist.

Fox News analyst Brit Hume just pulled that trick on Twitter to try to back up his claim that Donald Trump's "go back to" statements to four Congresswomen of color weren't technically racist.


The first Merriam-Webster entry for "racism" reads "a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race."

Merriam-Webster

First of all, I'm not sure how this definition actually makes Trump's statements not racist. A belief is not always conscious, so even assuming that his racism is unconscious, a white man telling four women of color to "go back to" their countries of origin—despite three of them being born in the U.S. and the fourth being a naturalized citizen of the U.S.—is pretty objectively racist. No one knows exactly what is going on in the President's head, but such statements only being made to women of color would certainly be consistent with the behavior of someone with a belief in white people's inherent superiority.

But that simple definition isn't truly definitive, either. Shortly after Hume's tweet, Merriam-Webster pointed out a usage note for the word "racism," which clarifies that dictionaries do not provide the be-all-end-all definition of words.

Anti-racism advocates have tried time and time again to explain that racism is not as straightforward as someone saying, "I think I'm superior to people who don't share my skin color." Racism is almost never that blatant, and yet oodles of Americans refuse to call anything less than that kind of bold statement "racism." We have a long history showing exactly how white supremacy—the origin of racism in the U.S.—exerts itself in both strong and subtle ways, and thousands of hours and pages of education from experts describing how racism works on an individual and societal level. But people still insist on the simplistic narrative of "Racism=hating people of a different race."

I've seen many people, including Brit Hume, argue that the word racism has lost all meaning. Frankly, that's a copout. Racism—as both a conscious or unconscious belief of racial superiority and as a system of racial prejudice blended with power dynamics—has a broader meaning than one person hating another person for the color of their skin. But that doesn't make it meaningless.

I've also seen people complain that "everything is racist these days," but no, it's really not. We simply understand more about racism now, thanks to the field of race studies and to people of color offering their time and energy to explain it, so it's easier to identify in its various forms. In my experience, when someone's understanding of racism reaches a certain stage, they start recognizing it in places where ignorance or unconscious bias may have caused them to miss it in the past. That's not imagining racism where it doesn't exist or "calling everything racist these days"; that's simply seeing reality more clearly.

When you really dive deep into the historical, psychological, and sociological reality of racism in America, it becomes painfully obvious that racism is far more prevalent and enmeshed in our society than most people think. Until defensive, mostly-white folks stop automatically denying racism every time the word is used and stop throwing around dictionaries to avoid having to do that deep dive work, we're not going to make real headway on this issue.

Let's stop pretending that the definition and supposed overuse of the word "racism" is the problem, when the problem is racism, period.

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The "New CEO Report" for 2018, which looks at new CEOS for the 250 largest S&P 500 companies, found that 23 people were appointed to the position of CEO. Only one of those 23 people was a woman. Michelle Gass, the new CEO of Kohl's, was the lone female on the list.

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