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Dan O'Connor WHEN DAN O’CONNOR returned injured from service as a Marine in Vietnam, the world was a very different place.

“Back in those days, military service was something you didn‟t want to elaborate about on your job application. A physical injury was another obstacle you had to quietly overcome. If you had a psychological wound you wouldn‟t dream of telling anyone about it,” recalls O‟Connor, who suffered was injured by an improvised explosive and suffered post traumatic stress.

Getting and maintaining a civilian job was part of the battle. Luckily, O‟Connor found an employer he could identify with when he began a career in law enforcement. He found a greater sense of purpose when he met his wife Debbie. Between his job and family, he stayed busy enough to avoid the emotional consequences of war.

It wasn‟t until he slowed down that he realized he needed to confront the demons and ghosts who‟d followed him out of the jungles.

“There weren‟t a lot of programs to help us when I returned home from Vietnam. I didn‟t want to feel like a victim or complain about the war. It took years to address the challenges I faced. But after I did, I became concerned about my fellow veterans who may have been in the same boat,” he said.

In 2005, one of the legs O‟Connor had injured in the war was re-injured in a motorcycle accident and amputated.

“I didn‟t want to feel like there were things I couldn‟t do in life. Losing a leg is one thing; I had a lot of friends who had lost limbs in Vietnam. Losing the chance to live my life to the fullest wasn‟t acceptable to me,” he recalled.

With the help of the Veterans Administration, O‟Connor was able to get a prosthetic leg and hand cycle. Soon, he was more physically active than before his second injury.

Giving Back

But seeing so many young men and women returning from combat in Iraq and Afghanistan was heart-wrenching for the former Marine who didn‟t want to see them face a life of obstacles.

It was around that time that O‟Connor became aware of the DAV (Disabled American Veterans) Charitable Service Trust. Through a program supported with a grant by the charity, O‟Connor was able to participate in rehabilitative cycling events with his fellow veterans, many who were injured in the recent wars.

“Suddenly, I found myself in the role of mentor. The younger veterans were saying, „If that old Vietnam Veteran can do it, I can do it too,‟” said O‟Connor. “When you see that glimmer of hope in their eyes and get the sense that a young veteran‟s outlook on life has changed for the better, you know you‟ve changed the quality of his or her life forever.”

O'Connor has thrived as an athlete and coach. He now introduces injured active military and veterans to the sports he loves through a Wounded Warrior Regiment Program in Quantico, Virginia, and has helped them compete at the national level.

“DAV welcomed me home and continues to help ensure veterans of all eras get the support they need to live their lives to the fullest. The programs the DAV Charitable Service Trust supports provide a blanket of support for the people who‟ve defended our way of life,” O‟Connor said.

In addition to rehabilitative sporting events, DAV Charitable Service Trust provides grants to programs that give hope to sick, ill and injured heroes. Those programs link veterans to job training and assistance initiatives, fund counseling programs and address and prevent homelessness.

“From a veterans physical health to their emotional and economic well-being, the Trust makes is there for those who‟ve served,” O‟Connor said. “They‟ve made the greatest commitment to our country that anyone can make. When they get hurt, we owe it to them to give them every opportunity to live meaningful lives and care for their families.”

© DAV Charitable Service Trust All rights reserved.

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