A quadruple amputee said that he was honored to shake hands with President Donald Trump and used his platform to call upon the government to expand veterans' health care benefits.
"I never could have dreamed that ... the President of the United States would be shaking my hand -- or hook, as it so happens -- as I represented more than 1.3 million other seriously injured and ill veterans as the National Commander of DAV (Disabled American Veterans)," veteran Dave Riley, a former U.S. Coast Guard rescue swimmer, wrote in an op-ed for Independent Journal Review.
Riley had to have all four of his limbs and some of his internal organs removed after catching an uncommon bacterial infection in 1997 while serving with the Coast Guard.
"At the time, I felt my life was over and I couldn't imagine finding purpose again," Riley explained.
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Two decades later, the veteran said he was "proud" to meet Trump as a representative of DAV and praised the president for the creation of the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection. That office, which will report to VA Secretary David Shulkin, will investigate reported retaliation against whistleblowers and will examine the overall structure of the VA in order to reduce these instances in the future, according to USA Today.
"I am all too familiar with adrenaline-pumping experiences," wrote the former rescuer in the IJR piece. "Though quite a bit different than plunging from a helicopter into icy waters to perform an emergency rescue, shaking hands with the President of the United States was still a surreal, unforgettable moment in my life."
Having his wife and caregiver, Yvonne, standing with him meant everything to him, Riley said. She helps him get out of bed in the morning and made it possible for him to travel to the nation's capital to meet the president.
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"When President Trump shook my hand, I hope it served as a reminder that we severely disabled veterans don't do this alone," he added. "There is almost always a dedicated caregiver at our side inspiring us, motivating us and helping us achieve the best life possible. It's time we thank and honor them properly by giving them the support they deserve."
Caregivers like Yvonne are only eligible to receive VA family benefits, which include payments, health care, education access, medical training and other benefits for the elderly, if the veteran was injured after September 11, 2001. Riley said that caregivers' lives "would be greatly improved" if the VA could "ease the physical and emotional strains and the financial burdens" that they suffer from caring for another.
"Clearly, expanding eligibility for these benefits to veterans of all eras isn't just the right thing to do, it's the smart thing to do," wrote Riley.