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Veterans' Guide to Driving and Transportation

August 08, 2019

The Veterans’ Guide to Driving and Transportation Resources

Photo credit: Pexels

Service members have, and will continue to, make sacrifices for their country daily. What’s more, they choose to make this contribution while accepting the fact that they may experience plenty of difficulties and hardships — either during their service, or when they return to civilian life. When active military personnel become veterans, either due to injury or simply the completion of their service, they may find it challenging to transition back into their civilian life.

One particular aspect of civilian life that veterans may find difficult to adjust to is driving. Civilians may take for granted how much they use their car for going to work, to the grocery store, or simply getting out and about because it is simply a way of life. However, military members — who may have experienced physical and/or emotional trauma — may find this everyday task challenging. To help with the wide range of driving and mobility challenges veterans face, there are resources to aid and support them.

Driving and Mobility Challenges Veterans Face

Of the 18.2 million vets in the U.S. in 2017, only 9% of them were aged 18 to 34, while 50% were 65 and older. Elderly civilians can have their own driving and mobility challenges, but an older veteran may find driving even more difficult. Gallup reported that 83% of U.S. adults drive a car at least several times a week, and with driving being such an essential aspect of life, most veterans cannot help but to do so. However, veterans must recognize and overcome several obstacles when driving in the civilian world.

Adapting to Civilian Life on the Road

There is strong evidence to suggest transitioning to civilian life is extremely challenging and emotionally taxing for veterans. In coping with these changes, substance abuse disorders have become prevalent and are a significant problem among our nation’s military veterans.

The use of drugs and binge drinking rates have steadily climbed for those individuals trying to adjust to civilian life, and this mechanism of coping could impair their ability to drive. Additionally, veterans may be using substances to alleviate mental health issues — which may only create more personal struggles. In 2015, veterans accounted for 14.3% of suicides among U.S. adults, while they represented only 8.3% of the population. This report attributes many of these suicides to mental health and/or substance abuse disorders. If veterans are impaired or unable to drive, they may not be able to travel in order to receive the proper care they need for their mental health issues.

Receiving mental health care also involves money. Veterans may choose to get a job either for money, a sense of purpose, or both. However, if they cannot drive, a job may be difficult to keep. To receive the care veterans need to adapt to civilian life, a veteran must have some sort of income and transportation. However, the struggles veterans are dealing with when changing to civilian life are making it harder and harder for them to maintain economic and physical mobility.

Driving with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD is a prominent mental health condition that plagues veterans, which could contribute to their driving challenges, particularly if they are experiencing flashbacks. To make matters worse, PTSD can be comorbid with traumatic brain injury, and can cause feelings of overwhelming anxiety. Life-threatening events (such as past combat experiences) and current life stressors can cause such anxiety to bring on panic attacks and disorders — which can then lead to agoraphobia.

This vicious chain of events leading to agoraphobia can bring on such high levels of anxiety that a veteran may avoid getting out of the house for fear of being in crowds. This means that a veteran may not want to use public transportation, be in open or enclosed spaces because they are so panic-stricken. PTSD (when comorbid with traumatic brain injury) can either lead to aggressive driving — which can cause injury or death in veterans — or, the anxiety may be so bad as to progress into agoraphobia — which may give a veteran such anxiety as to not leave the house. Both conditions can make it extremely difficult for a veteran to drive.

Driving (or Not) with a Disability

Veterans are faced with two options: either not being able to drive at all due to physical impairment, or having difficulties driving with challenging conditions such as PTSD or traumatic brain injury. To maintain a job and earn a wage, receive mental and physical services, and to generally get around, veterans will need to use targeted coping strategies to deal with these conditions such as PTSD comorbid with traumatic brain injury, physical impairments, and the invisible injuries that can make driving extremely difficult.

Using Driving to Your Advantage

While adjusting to civilian life brings many challenges that may prevent veterans from driving, some will, in fact, be able to drive. Those veterans who can drive are in a unique position to take advantage of it in a variety of ways. Driving can, and should be, used as a tool to receive healthcare, earn money, and better their quality of life.

Access to Mental and Physical Health Services

Mental health conditions, substance abuse issues, and physical impairments can impede a veterans’ ability to get to the organizations they need to in order to receive the care they need. If a veteran can drive, they can use their V.A. benefits to access several healthcare services (approved therapists, peer support groups, etc.). Health, both mental and physical, is vital, and driving to the care they need can make adjusting to civilian life much more comfortable.

Access Driving Jobs for Vets

The ability to drive can itself turn into a job for a veteran. Commercial fleets and trucking companies, because of government incentives and the skills that vets have, will pay veterans to drive for their driving services. Additionally, a vet can use this opportunity for some income during this transition period.

Access Outdoor Recreation

Recreation and nature-based activities are a form of therapy that can be beneficial to veterans — specifically those with PTSD. Driving to parks, going hiking, camping, fishing, swimming, and hunting are all activities a veteran can use to be out in nature.

Vehicles for Veterans

It may often be the case that a veteran can drive but does not have a car. The following agencies recognize this, and a vet can take advantage of these programs and grants to help get access to a vehicle.

V.A. Automobile Allowance and Adaptive Equipment

For veterans with a service-related disability — such as the loss of hand or foot, decreased vision, or severe burn injury — may be able to receive a specially equipped vehicle, or finance for adaptive equipment. The VA Automobile Allowance and Adaptive Equipment can offer you a disability benefit of $21,058.69 to put towards a specially equipped vehicle. After filing a disability compensation claim, both veterans and service members may visit their website and fill out an application to get these benefits.

Transportation 4 Heroes

The Military Warriors Support Foundation can provide payment free vehicles for vets wounded in action, and “gold star spouses” — widows who have not remarried of vets who were killed in action. Veterans injured in action must be honorably retired or separated from the military, or within 90 days of discharge, must be able to obtain insurance, and must not have more than one vehicle loan. Go to their Transportation 4 Heroes website to apply for a vehicle.

Vantage Mobility Rebate

Vintage’s Veteran Mobility Products helps veterans use available V.A. programs, rebates on first-time purchases, and adaptive equipment rebate programs for financial assistance for individuals with disabilities who need help purchasing a new mobility vehicle. Vintage themselves offers $1000 rebate to veterans to assist in buying a wheelchair accessible vehicle for the first time.

Keys to Progress

Progressive, the (car) insurance company, offers this program that has donated more than 500 refurbished cars to veterans in need. If you pass specific criteria, fill out the necessary forms from a nonprofit, or V.A. staff person, veterans may receive a car with a full tank of gas, insurance payments for six months, and other assistance benefits based on location.

Transportation Jobs

Often, military driving experience is valuable in the civilian trucking or commercial vehicle driving industry. There are many programs a veteran can work with to gain certification, such as CDL’s, to turn their ability to drive into a transportation job.

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Military Driver Programs

The FMCSA acknowledges military driving experience and will waive the CDL skills and knowledge test — while veterans under 21 can participate in a CDL pilot program. Additionally, this organization offers commercial motor vehicle (CMV) operator safety grants and funds to educational institutions to provide commercial driver training for professional busing and trucking careers.

Prime Military Fast Track

Prime Inc. has employed over a thousand veterans — especially if those who were a motor transport operator. Prime offers reduced training costs for those who served in the Armed Forces and recognizes veterans — holding on-site Veterans Day services and supporting Wreaths Across America. To drive for Prime Inc., simply visit their website and apply online.

US XPRESS Military Program and Advanced Rate of Pay

U.S. Xpress’ military program offers those who qualify for the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill up to 24 months of payments while receiving professional truck driver training. Within their first two years at this company, they can earn up to $70,000 with their advanced rate of pay program for veterans who have been honorably discharged. For qualifications, and to apply, visit the USX: Military Program website.

CRST Military Apprenticeship Program

CRST Driving Academy offers a smooth transition into a job and allows veterans to get paid while they earn their CDL-A through their military apprenticeship program. Qualified applicants will receive $500 as a sign-on bonus as well as 25% of their time in service applied toward their starting pay. To apply, visit the CRST Driving Academy website.

C.R. England Service to Semis

C.R.England’s veteran program offers zero out-of-pocket CDL training tuition, works with the V.A. to allow G.I. Bill eligible veterans to receive tax-free monthly stipends, and provides a support network for them to enter civilian life. Sign up through the C.R.England website.

Coping Skills

Transitioning to civilian life can be a continual struggle for many vets who have PTSD and other mental illnesses. To continue working on their coping skills — and especially to help deal with the ongoing difficulties of driving — consider the following agencies for mental, emotional, and physical support.

V.A. Mental Health Support

The VA offers numerous mental health benefits for overall wellness. Visit their mental health support website to find mental health providers and schedule appointments, transitioning service support, and even telehealth sessions if individuals aren’t able to drive to a location.

National Wounded Warrior Center

For veterans in Mammoth Lakes, CA, the National Wounded Warrior Center provides vocational training, physical and psychological therapy, and other mental health counseling, including recreational therapy to help wounded vets adjust to civilian life.

Military OneSource

Military OneSource offers resources such as specialist consultations, wounded warrior programs, emotional health support, and caregiver and mobility resources for veterans to adjust to civilian life. They also offer disability, financial, healthcare, military belief, education benefits, and more.

Real Warriors Campaign

This organization encourages service members, veterans, and their families to seek help in coping with the invisible wounds they may find surfacing after a service member comes home. Through the Real Warriors website, you can read personal stories, and seek care, and find psychological health resource phone numbers if veterans or their family members are experiencing unseen struggles and want to reach out.

Mobility Resources

Veterans who cannot drive don’t have to be immobile. There are plenty of programs, both nationally and locally, that make transportation accessible specifically for veterans. As a result, a veteran may not even need a car and may choose to sell their car to use the money for other purposes — such as mental and physical health services, or the transportation agencies and programs below. Most major U.S. cities have services where cars can easily be sold for cash, and the process is easy to use.

The following mobility programs and support resources can help vets adjust to life without a personal vehicle:

Disabled American Veterans (DAV)

The DAV has many departments and chapters nationwide. They provide 3517 vehicles to transport veterans with free rides to and from V.A. medical facilities. Visit the DAV hospital service coordination directory for vehicles and information near you.

V.A. Veteran’s Transportation Program

The VA offers rides of their own as well. As part of their health benefits, they offer a veterans transportation program that provides travel solutions to and from V.A. healthcare facilities for both V.A. and authorized non-VA healthcare appointments.

Lyft Texas Veterans Support

The popular mobile phone app Lyft has partnered with Houston Food Bank and SAMMinistries to provide free transportation services to career, housing, and food assistance programs for the population of veterans in the Houston and San Antonio areas.

VIA Metro Transit Reduced Fares (San Antonio, TX)

Another transit agency in San Antonio (and surrounding cities), VIA, offers reduced fares, and/or a reduced fare pass to active duty service members and disabled veterans.

Peter Pan Bus

Peter Pan bus lines offer a 15% discount for active-duty military members and veterans with a valid military picture. Peter Pan bus lines operate in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Maryland, New York, District of Columbia, and Pennsylvania.

National Resource Directory (NRD)

Visit the National Resource Directory database for transportation assistance programs and public transit options all over the nation, including facility locators, military travel pay, off-duty travel, transportation assistance and public transportation, vehicle modifications, and adaptive equipment agencies.