Veterans Guide to Cars and Driving
Veterans returning from active duty overseas face a variety of challenges when integrating into civilian society: nobody will kick your bunk to get you up in the morning, your uniform will be different, and transportation to work is unlikely to be a halftrack.
Getting a vehicle, a place to live (other than mom’s basement), and a job are first steps. Ensuring that you’re signed up for any necessary Veteran’s Administration (VA) services can be a time-consuming effort but is essential to long-term health.
Getting Back on The Road
There are plenty of places that offer military discounts for those with money in the bank and a need for transportation, but you need to do more than a VIN number lookup before you drive off the lot. Here are some tips:
- Read the fine print regarding the interest rate on any loan involved to avoid getting taken for a ride.
- Look past the slogans and shop around. Just because a company advertises special treatment for veterans doesn’t mean you’ll get a better deal. High fees can be hidden in the transaction that appears to give veterans a break.
- Experts suggest getting financing from your bank or credit union before car shopping, and avoiding dealer financing.
- Look beyond the monthly payment for a lease or purchase and figure out how much the financing will cost you ov cer time, then compare that to the future value of the vehicle.
- Buy a vehicle according to your needs, not your imagination. Sure, you may be used to driving two-ton trucks, but that’s not what you’re likely to need on a daily commute. Think of fuel costs for your new life, not the one in which Uncle Sam filled the tank.
Veterans and PTSD on the Road
If you have documented PTSD or your loved ones suggest that you may suffer from it, it’s best to get evaluated and learn about your triggers so you’re not putting yourself or your family at risk. Those with PTSD may react unexpectedly to loud noises, flashes of light, or other stimuli. If operating in a convoy was part of your deployment, you may find yourself hyper-aware of driving situations that include a feeling of claustrophobia brought on my heavy traffic, panic when there’s construction on the road or an unexpected detour, and vigilance about potential road-side dangers.
Studies show that veterans are at higher than average risk for accidents in the first six months after deployment, so letting someone else take the wheel during that re-integration phase is wise. Also, consider tailoring your driving to your issues, such as not driving at night or planning to take frequent breaks to relieve the tension of hyper-vigilance.
What to Do if You Are in a Car Accident?
If you have an accident, take a few moments to collect your thoughts. Follow these steps to ensure proper documentation of the incident for your insurance company, then get checked by a doctor, and be sure to mention your recent deployment or any PTSD issues so that you’re adequately examined for every potential issue:
- call police and tell them if an ambulance is necessary to handle any injuries;
- move the vehicles out of travel lanes and get yourself and your passengers away from the road to reduce the possibility of a chain reaction or secondary crash;
- get the other driver’s license plate number through license plate lookup and insurance information;
- get names and contact information from witnesses;
- if police do not come to the scene, take photos with your phone or sketch the scene, including direction of travel and presence of any stop signs or traffic lights;
- file a police report within the state’s time requirement (in the absence of a responding officer), and
- contact your insurance agency to alert them about the accident.
If you suffer from PTSD and have experienced a car accident, be aware that the two could be related. Deployments affect one’s ability to function in society, but that doesn’t mean you’re to blame. If you feel intense guilt about an accident or lose your drive to do everyday things like go to work or interact with family it could be a sign of depression, which affects many veterans.
VA Services: Driver’s Rehab
Getting checked out for a civilian life in which driving is an important factor is possible through the VA. Special services are available through the VA for those with cognitive or physical disabilities include adaptive driving mechanisms and programs. These may include steering wheel-mounted controls for acceleration and braking for those who have amputations or limited use of their legs as well as instructions for those with PTSD-related driving issues. Those who need a handicap-accessible vehicle or components, such as a wheelchair ramp, may find resources and suggestions through the VA as well.
Whether or not your disability is related to your service you may be eligible for an adaptive driving grant, which can pay most or all of the costs to retrofit your personal vehicle, allowing you to maintain your independence. This grant is limited to those with hand, foot, or eye disabilities. Check with the VA for more information.
Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Military Driver Programs
Many industries and state or regional governments offer preferential hiring to veterans. One that has offered a particularly beneficial program to those returning from deployment is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which offers a fast-track to a commercial driver’s license for those with experience in military vehicle use or driving, including:
- two years of safe driving on a military driver’s license;
- medical clearance, and
- meeting specific requirements set by your state of residence.
Even those veterans who are under age 21 but qualify for the program may be accepted into a pilot program for skipping the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) skills test and proceeding directly to a license, but theirs may limit interstate travel and does not allow the transport of hazardous materials.