In 2004, when I returned from a 12-month combat deployment to Iraq, I found that constantly driving my car in and around the 101st Airborne’s back-country Kentucky roads was a therapeutic escape from the frustrations and difficulties I faced in re-integrating into civilian life. For the entirety of that deployment, I operated at a state of non-stop hyper vigilance and didn’t know how to slow down upon my return home. It was surprising to suddenly find myself surrounded by an environment that had moved with less haste and precision that what I had been used to. That is still the case today for many returning soldiers, as a recent study completed by USAA highlights the difficulties and dangers that troops face when transitioning home, especially behind the wheel.
According to USAA, returning soldiers faced a 13-percent increase in “at-fault auto accidents” compared to their time before deployment. Enlisted soldiers were 22-percent more likely to cause a wreck after returning home. That figure drops to 10-percent for non-commissioned officers and just 3.5-percent for commissioned officers, which makes sense, since the majority of combat and deployment driving is conducted by the lower-enlisted ranks.
The “Returning Warriors” study includes accidents reported from 2007-2010, and the study’s authors noted that within 6 months of reintegration, the accident rates declined. Still, the report offers no solutions to the problem, only that it plans to raise awareness of the data within the military family communities and among safety commanders and advocates. To its credit, USAA has said it will not use this information to raise its insurance rates.
“Our men and women in uniform put their lives on the line when they deploy in service of this country, but they can face new threats to their safety when they come home and get behind the wheel,” says retired US Army Maj. Gen. Kevin Bergner, president of USAA Property and Casualty Insurance Group. ”This issue is not very well known in the public eye, and there’s no silver-bullet solution. You have to start with awareness.”