I was home from Iraq only days before the concept of driving rattled me. My Stryker armored vehicle rarely exceeded 35 miles an hour in combat, so highway speeds felt like the downward surge on a rollercoaster. My hands clenched when I saw debris and objects in the road; they were mere traffic hazards in Seattle but potential IEDs in Baghdad. Vivid streaks of blue and green distracted my driving as I came to understand the problems of heightened sense awareness at home. My unit was showered with brand new motorcycles and speeding tickets.

A recent article highlighted the dangers of reckless driving post-deployment. While it’s a problem facing Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan now, the tragedy is nothing new:

Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are 75% more likely to die in car accidents than the general population. Historically, veterans have had increased fatalities following their service. Vietnam vets were twice as likely to die in crashes than non-veterans, and Gulf War veterans had a 30% to 50% greater risk of dying in crashes.

“It troubles me to tell you that once you get them home safely, they are coming home to risk of death and injury on our roadways,” said Ronald Medford, deputy administration for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in a speech last summer.

It’s perfectly understandable why these accidents occur. Some use the same defensive driving habits learned overseas, while others want to get the same adrenaline fix that comes with ambushes and firefights. Alcohol is often a factor when folks use it to self-medicate their symptoms of post-traumatic stress. These attempts come at a great cost to Veterans and their families, who have already been burdened by absence.

This is an entirely preventable problem. Look for other ways to get your blood pumping instead of driving recklessly. Try something like skydiving or adventure tourism; things that will get your adrenaline going without putting your life, or others, at unnecessary risk. And if you’re using alcohol as a treatment for mental stress, remember that alcohol only makes the problem worse. Seek treatment at VA if you think you have a problem.

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Published on Oct. 24, 2011

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  1. Jenny Taylor January 1, 2012 at 12:42 am

    Thank you for bringing awareness to this subject. I didn’t know that such a simple thing as driving could be a nerve racking ordeal for our veterans. The statistics do make sense though and I can see why our vets struggle when they return. Hopefully we can do a better job in taking care of them, it is the least we can do to honor them for their service.

  2. Mamawash October 30, 2011 at 4:32 am

    I can definitely see how this happens… When my husband returned from his deployment, he had been exposed to 5 IED blasts…. He came home and drove himself to work. A week later he told me he’d rather not drive. It took him 2 months to admit he had a flashback while behind the wheel and almost got in an accident….Even a year later, he was going on base one night and they had the gate set up with the barricades taking it from 3 lanes to one…. the bottleneck effect freaked him out…he had another flashback and popped his car into reverse and sped backwards away from it. Luck would have it no one was behind him… the MP’s caught up with him though… gave him a ton of grief. It’s a hard adjustment. Takes longer than you would think to get used to being home & back on the road :(

  3. Daniel October 26, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Well what do you do when you need help for an injury,drink booze,surely can’t get medication of fear you’ll become hooked,booze is legal and if the VA won’t help then i’ll get my jack daniels refilled. Wish i never stepped into the service,i wouldn’t be as screwed up as i am now,,,,Jack Daniels forever.

    • Brian October 27, 2011 at 3:51 pm

      Hey Daniel,

      Have you checked out the Vet Centers? They are easier to access than the VA and we have a more relaxed feel. You can get help with the psychological side of things and get some help getting the things you need and deserve through the VA. We are in most urban areas. Take a look. http://www.vetcenter.va.gov/

      Grace and peace,

      Brian McLaughlin

    • Tom October 27, 2011 at 5:17 pm

      Booze is as addictive if not more than the meds. The VA is not the only place to receive help as well, rather short sighted if you ask me.

  4. Gareth Mannion October 24, 2011 at 5:13 pm

    It has been 20 years for me, and I am always looking for a safer way to get that rush. I have a kid I raise on my own so I can’t be doing anything too risky. I do find some of these adventure races to be fun and training for them helps keep me going. Look into doing the Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder, Metro Dash etc, they are a lot of fun and keep you focused.

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