Virginia-based driving rehabilitation program helps veterans, wounded warriors get back on the road

Driver Rehabilitation Center of Excellence helps anyone who is injured or physically challenged -- not just wounded veterans

A veteran who was severely injured in Afghanistan teamed up with his occupational therapist and driving rehab specialist to help people with disabilities get back into the driver's seat

Marine veteran Josh Himan and Tammy Phipps developed the Driver Rehabilitation Center of Excellence (DRCE) in 2016 – marking the nation's first driving rehabilitation program offering a full suite of services aimed at helping people who are either injured or physically challenged. 

Retired Army Capt. James Howard at the Driver Rehabilitation Center of Excellence (DRCE).

Retired Army Capt. James Howard at the Driver Rehabilitation Center of Excellence (DRCE). (DRCE)

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The duo first met at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, where Phipps had developed the first and only driver rehab program in the Department of Defense.  

One of her patients was Himan, who was left paralyzed from the waist down after his vehicle drove over an IED during the last month of his deployment in 2009. 

"During my time in the hospital, you know, one of their things was, what can I do back in society again?" Himan told Fox News. "They told me that I had the ability to drive…but the problem was trying to put the whole package together." 

Retired Marine Sgt. Maj. Raymond Mackey at the Driver Rehabilitation Center of Excellence (DRCE)

Retired Marine Sgt. Maj. Raymond Mackey at the Driver Rehabilitation Center of Excellence (DRCE) (DRCE)

He recalled thinking: "OK, so I have the capability of driving. But how do I find the type of vehicle? How do I know about all the things that are available for people with my disability to drive?" 

On top of that, trying to figuring out the Veteran Affairs paperwork proved to be very distressing.

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When he called Phipps in 2013 for help – everything changed. 

"She was the only one to not just tell me I could drive again," he said. "The difference was she got me actually driving back on the road. She helped me with the paperwork." 

He wasn't alone in his struggles.

Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Mark McClish at the Driver Rehabilitation Center of Excellence (DRCE). 

Retired Air Force Master Sgt. Mark McClish at the Driver Rehabilitation Center of Excellence (DRCE).  (DRCE)

Phipps recalled getting multiple calls from veterans that had just transitioned into veteran status across the nation and needed help but didn’t have the right customized vehicle or resources to find one. 

The problem, she recalled, is that she was one of a "very small niche" of occupational therapists that do driving rehabilitation. In fact, "There's only around 400 nationally, and that number gets smaller and smaller, the more complex the cases become," she said. 

The duo decided to address what Phipps – now the CEO of DRCE – said was "a huge gap in services for veterans and for all people with disabilities in this area."

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Located in Fairfax County, Virginia, DRCE offers a full suite of services. DRCE staff will evaluate a driver and help them find auto-adaptive equipment that's best suited to their unique needs. They will properly install the equipment for the driver and, through their driving rehabilitation programs, will get them comfortably back on the road.

Retired Army Capt. James Howard and DRCE co-owner retired Marine Cpl. Joshua Himan. 

Retired Army Capt. James Howard and DRCE co-owner retired Marine Cpl. Joshua Himan.  (DRCE)

"We took and made a model that's never been done nationally," Phipps said. 

However, veterans are not the only ones benefitting from these services. 

Over the past five years, DRCE has helped hundreds of people who are severely injured get back out on the road. 

"What I really find a lot of pride in is I help quadriplegics all over America," Himan said. "We're able to take those skills that we learned in the military and from all those military injuries and now actually pass that along to the civilian world. "