The No. 1 killer of combat troops returning to the U.S. is not suicide. It’s car accidents, according to the Veterans Affairs Department.
Soldiers and Marines (and, to a lesser extent, sailors and airmen) learn to “drive to survive” in foreign battlegrounds. But those same driving skills don’t translate well to U.S. roads and are proving deadly for troops, MyFoxHouston.com reports.
"It was complete culture shock coming from the military back to Houston," explained Bryan Escobedo, a former sergeant with the U.S. Marine Corps.
"For a long time, when I was driving on the highway, I always thought that there was IEDs [Improvised Explosive Devices]. Anything that I saw on the side of the road, I'd swerve all the way. I don't know, it would just overtake me with anxiety and I sometimes had to pull over and gather myself," Escobedo told FOX 26.
Escobedo survived four IED attacks overseas. But driving habits that once saved his life were now putting him at risk.
The problem is real, according to military insurer USAA.
According to FOX 26, USAA looked at 171,000-plus deployments, and saw "a 13 percent increase in at-fault accidents" among troops that had just returned stateside.
That's a 13 percent jump, overall, in wrecks caused by post-deployment personnel.
But the risk rises 22 percent among enlisted troops. And the increase was a startling 36 percent for individuals with three or more deployments under their belts.
The good news is: What is learned can be unlearned. It just takes time.
USAA tells FOX 26 News that the raised risk of wrecks for returning troops eventually drops back down again, after they've been home for six months or more.
"Looking back on it now, I just can't believe I was actually that paranoid," marveled Sgt. Escobedo.
The Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Transportation, along with the Department of Defense, are combining forces to reduce the risk of motor vehicle crashes among veterans, particularly those returning from the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.