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Studies show high car accident fatality rate among returning vets

The drawn-out wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have left a generation of returning veterans with physical disabilities, psychological trauma and general difficulty returning to civilian life. Some struggles such as the loss of a limb are visible. But even vets with no visible injuries still struggle to readjust when they return home.

One problem facing many returning soldiers is re-learning how to drive safely on American roads. Recent studies have shown that the fatal car accident rate among returning veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan is 75 percent higher than among the civilian population. The risk increases with each of a veteran's additional tours in a combat zone.

There are likely several contributing factors that account for this problem. Perhaps most obvious is the driving habits engrained during active duty. The unique driving techniques that helped soldiers stay alive in combat zones may be more likely to injure or kill them on roads in the U.S. Some of these techniques include swerving on bridges, straddling lanes and racing through intersections. Some veterans also fail to wear seatbelts because in combat, these safety devices would slow down escape from the vehicle.

One of the other major contributing factors to the high car accident fatality rate is the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder. Veterans suffering from PTSD are more likely to drive aggressively. Additionally, untreated PTSD often leads to alcohol and substance abuse; which then increases the risk of crashes related to drunk and drugged driving.

The military is already starting to address the issue of driving safety with both veterans and soldiers about to be discharged, but there is still much work to be done. For many of the brave men and women who have fought for our country, the fight is now about self-preservation and healing.

Source: Washington Post, "Motor vehicle crashes: A little-known risk to returning veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan," David Brown, May 5, 2013

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