According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death among veterans who have recently returned from deployment. Today, as we honor the men and women who have served in America's armed forces, it's a good time for all of us to familiarize ourselves with the Department's efforts to keep our military friends and family safe.
What's behind the high rate of auto-related fatalities for veterans? Part of it may be an unfortunate fact of life: motor vehicle accidents are responsible for more deaths than any other cause among Americans 75 and younger. The rate is particularly high for people between 15 and 34 years old -- a demographic range that includes many returning armed forces personnel. So in some respects, it might seem that veterans aren't all that different from their non-military peers.
However, the U.S. Veterans Administration has determined that veterans may have specific conditions that put them at increased risk for auto accidents. Research into the matter is ongoing, but two possible culprits are traumatic brain injuries from the battlefield and post-traumatic stress disorder. The former can impair driving ability, and the latter can affect driving habits.
In fact, in 2009, an Army study showed that the stressful conditions of driving in places like Iraq and Afghanistan have taken a toll on many military personnel. While deployed, 50% of all soldiers in the study said that they became anxious when other cars approached quickly. Approximately 23% had driven through stop signs, and even during normal driving, 20% said they remained anxious. The VA understands that transitioning from such high-pressure environments to non-combat conditions can be difficult, and the Agency believes that it may lead to erratic driving behavior.
Thankfully, the Veterans Administration launched the "Veterans' Safe Driving Initiative" that same year. The project gives veterans the support they need to re-acclimate to non-combat roadway conditions. At each of its medical centers, the VA has established Safe Driving Coordinators who focus exclusively on honing driving skills for veterans. The agency has also beefed up education for its medical staff about the dangers of high-dosage sleep medications -- medications on which many veterans rely, but which may also put them at greater risk for auto accidents.
For those fortunate enough to have a veteran in their family or circle of friends, we encourage you to familiarize yourselves with the full list of safe-driving resources available through the "Veterans' Safe Driving Initiative". And please, have a happy, safe Veterans Day.