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A problematic nexus: Returning combat vets and motorcycle accidents

Here’s something that some psychologists and therapists who work with veterans returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan say should command more attention than it is currently receiving: the driving behavior of many service members back from deployments, especially where motorcycles are involved.

The reason: Motorcycle accident injuries — too often fatal — spell an outsized outcome for that driving population, particularly among soldiers who have experienced combat overseas.

Identifying and curbing problematic driving behaviors for many returning veterans, including Ohio service members, is an issue that one occupational therapy specialist calls “a reintegration challenge.”

In noting that, Dr. Erica Stern also comments that the Veterans Administration and many military administrators have not been particularly proactive about addressing the problem or participating in efforts to identify at-risk veterans and help them adjust poor driving habits. Stern says that the military has been generally averse until recently to any programs or studies that link driving problems with combat service.

The prevalence and distinctively high rate of motor vehicle accidents and motorcycle crashes among returning combat vets points rather decidedly, though, to a linkage that contributes to continuing adverse driving outcomes back home. In one study from Texas, for example, involving veterans redeployed back home, researchers found that single-vehicle crashes — many involving motorcycles — were the third leading cause of death, following only illness and disease.

In fact, nearly 20 percent of all fatalities resulted from motorcycle and car accidents, a figure the researchers view as stunningly high when compared to fatality causes for the population as a whole.

Stern says that military officials are beginning to better recognize the problem and engage in efforts to address it and curb adverse outcomes. Stern is presently working with military bases that have allowed access to soldiers with “driving anxieties” that need to be identified and worked on.

Source: American Statesman, “After returning home, many veterans get into motor vehicle accidents,” Sept. 30, 2012