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Little known fact: Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans at greater risk for dying in a fatal car accident

November 19, 2013 by Steven M. Gursten

Here’s a disturbing fact that most people don’t know: Veterans are at a higher risk of being involved in a deadly car accident.

The Washington Post recently uncovered this surprising statistic in an article, “Motor vehicle crashes: A little-known risk to returning veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Various pieces of evidence, research and observation of service members and counselors found the following, according to the story:

  • After they leave military service, veterans of the two wars have a 75% higher rate of fatal motor vehicle accidents than civilians.
  • Troops still in uniform have a higher risk of crashing their cars in the months immediately after returning from deployment than in the months immediately before.
  • Those who have had multiple tours in combat zones are at highest risk for auto accidents.

One explanation is that troops bring back driving habits that work in war zones but are dangerous on America’s roads. Speeding, racing through intersections, straddling lanes of traffic, swerving, not wearing seat belts, and other shortcuts that may even be recommended in war zones (like don’t put on a seat belt because it can obstruct a rapid escape), but are deadly when these vets come home.

But I have a feeling that’s not the total explanation. We have all read about the very high rates of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), TBI and divorce and suicide of veterans who return home.  And let’s not forget the complicated effects PTSD and brain injury, suffered by thousands of vets, can have on deadly car accidents. For example, a typical frontal lobe brain injury that causes classic dis-inhibition may well manifest itself in more aggressive driving.

Here’s a list of PTSD symptoms, which often manifest themselves after serious car accidents as well.
Before suicides were the leading cause of non-battle injuries, it was motor vehicle accidents, said Bruce H. Jones, a physician who heads the Army’s injury prevention program at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

The issue of car accidents and veterans seems to tie in with the fact that the qualities that preserve their lives and the lives of others don’t lend themselves well to an easy transition home.

As a car accident attorney and current president of the Motor Vehicle Trial Lawyers Association, and as an attorney who has worked with many of my own clients with PTSD and brain injury, it is my sincere hope that more resources will be available to raise awareness of this tragic link.  Veterans may come home from war, but in many ways the stress and psychological damage continues long after these heroes come home.

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