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Coast Guard veteran, quadruple amputee became first to lead veterans organization

Medically retired Coast Guard rescue swimmer and quadruple amputee David W. Riley of Mobile, Alabama, was elected National Commander of the 1.3 million-member DAV (Disabled American Veterans) in 2016. 

He became the first quadruple amputee and the first Coast Guard veteran to assume DAV’s highest post.

Riley, who served in the Army before his inter-service transfer to the Coast Guard, is a life member of DAV Chapter ¬7, Mobile, Alabama, where he has served at the local level supporting DAV service initiatives and as a volunteer at his local VA medical facility. He was named DAV’s Outstanding Disabled Veteran of the Year for 2010. Additionally, he has served as Chairman of DAV’s Convention Committee on Legislation and Veterans’ Rights.
He enlisted in the Army for six years as a radar repair technician where his tours of service included South Korea. In 1983, he joined the Coast Guard and pioneered many of the rescue swimmer techniques still in use today.

While on active duty at the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Alabama, he contracted a rare bacterium that caused a form of septic shock. He was hospitalized for three months and lost all four limbs and some of his internal organs due to the infection.  He was medically retired in 1997.
After his medical retirement, Riley earned a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in computer science. He is a retired analyst for Gulf Coast Technical Services.

Riley has actively mentored younger, recently returned veterans who have experienced amputations due to illness or injuries since his early involvement with DAV. He is also an active volunteer at the VA outpatient clinic in Mobile, Alabama.

“Like many of us, DAV was there for me when I didn’t know who to turn to,” Riley said. “Now, we have an obligation to ensure we do not leave behind others who need us. Please join me in telling older veterans about DAV who may not know about us. Let’s include those currently serving and transitioning.”

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