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

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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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Photo by Adelin Preda on Unsplash

A multinational study found that bystanders intervene in 9 out of 10 public conflicts.

The recent news report of a woman on a Philadelphia train being raped while onlookers did nothing to stop it was shocking and horrible, without question. It also got people discussing the infamous "bystander effect," which has led people to believe—somewhat erroneously, as it turns out—that people aren't likely to intervene when they see someone being attacked in public. Stories like this uninterrupted train assault combined with a belief that bystanders rarely step in can easily lead people to feel like everything and everyone is horrible.

But according to the most recent research on the subject, the Philadelphia incident appears to be the exception, not the rule. A 2019 multinational study found that at least one bystander (but usually more) will actually intervene in 9 out of 10 public conflicts.

The idea that people in groups aren't likely to intervene stems largely from research on the 1964 story of Kitty Genovese, a 28-year-old woman who was stabbed to death outside her apartment in New York, while dozens of onlookers in surrounding apartment buildings allegedly did nothing. However, further research has called the number of witnesses into question, and it appears that several did, in fact, call the police. Someone reportedly shouted out their window and scared the attacker away for a few minutes, and someone did rush to Genovese's aid after the second attack.

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