Hill Climbers: Staffer Branches Out
Rory Riley has made helping the disabled one of her life goals.
The newly promoted staff director on the House Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Disability Assistance and Memorial Affairs has been working with the Special Olympics since 1997, teaching gymnastics and even coaching Team USA for the Special Olympics’ World Games in Athens, Greece, last summer.
And now as a professional staff member on the panel, Riley said she is getting the chance to help a different kind of disabled American.
“Working with [the Special Olympics], I got involved in the world of disability and seeing firsthand how helping people and performing that type of service [can benefit others],” Riley said. “And even though the athletes who compete in the Special Olympics have different kinds of disabilities than the veterans we work with on the committee, there’s a lot of overlap in realizing you can make a difference in someone’s life, whether it’s teaching them a cartwheel or passing a [cost of living adjustment] bill, I think the end result is the same in that you’re helping people.”
After graduating from Quinnipiac University School of Law in 2007, Riley got her start in Washington, D.C., as associate counsel on the Board of Veterans’ Appeals within the Department of Veterans Affairs.
She worked there for two years, helping research the laws applicable to veterans who were appealing their benefit awards, before moving to the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, clerking for Judge Lawrence B. Hagel.
But after spending almost four years trying to interpret the laws that affect veterans’ benefits and having to write scholarly articles in order to get any of her ideas to help improve the benefits process seen by those with the power to draft legislation, she decided a move to Capitol Hill would be the best way to make a difference.
“The big things with articles like that is you’re advancing ideas about how to improve the system,” said Riley, who won a legal writing contest from the Paralyzed Veterans of America in 2008 and 2009. “Here, people take my ideas into consideration every day. I don’t have to enter contests and restrict what I’m saying based on who I work for. People are more engaged in my ideas in this position.”
Now that she’s working on the Hill, Riley said she also gets the opportunity to interact with Members of Congress, share ideas with other staffers and apply her experience from working in the legislative, executive and judicial branches.
“I’ve worked for all three branches of government … on the same policy issue,” Riley said. “I don’t know a lot of people who can say that.”
For those looking to move up the Capitol Hill ladder, Riley said that a focus just on networking won’t go far enough.
“Everybody’s always emphasizing networking … and even though networking is important — I don’t want to say that it’s not — if you work really hard and your résumé stands out, there will be plenty of opportunities available,” Riley said.
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