• Oct 11th 2011 at 2:00PM
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Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for mi... Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for military personnel in their first year home from war (triplezero, Flickr).
Updated on 10/13/2011 to include comments from Stanton's mother, Mary Larkin:

Timothy Stanton was 12 years old when the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks happened. It was then he decided he would join the armed forces as soon as he was of age.

After serving with the Army Reserve in Iraq as a military policeman, specialist first class, he was rotated home. He was itching to get back almost from the start of his leave, hoping this time to go to Afghanistan, according to the York Dispatch, a newspaper near his home.

And although his parents may have feared he'd die in battle, his life instead ended last week while driving down a farm-lined road in rural Maryland. According to police, he was speeding and crossed the center line, striking the driver's side of a Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck.

He died later at a local hospital from the injuries sustained in the crash. He was an organ donor, and his organs went to save nine different people that day, his family says.

Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for military personnel in their first year home from the war, according to Karen Cutright, a program manager for the Veterans Administration who runs clinics for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. More veterans die from car accidents than from suicide, a different kind of tragedy that has gotten more headlines.

Government officials are worried about the number of young veterans getting into fatal car accidents after they return home from the battlefield. The ones dying most often tend to be young, unmarried males. They tend to come from the infantry ranks, or on gun crews or in seamanship roles.

Stanton's mother, Mary Larkin, told AOL Autos she had no idea her son was at a higher risk for fatal car accidents. Stanton's platoon had been the first responders at the bombing of a children's soccer game in Iraq, and he carried the images of that with him when he got home.

"There should be intensive therapy for our boys when they come home, after living and seeing the horrors that they have," Larkin said.

Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are 75% more likely to die in car accidents than the general population. Historically, veterans have had increased fatalities following their service. Vietnam vets were twice as likely to die in crashes than non-veterans, and Gulf War veterans had a 30% to 50% greater risk of dying in crashes.

"It troubles me to tell you that once you get them home safely, they are coming home to risk of death and injury on our roadways," said Ronald Medford, deputy administration for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in a speech last summer.

Why they are risky drivers

Medford said NHTSA and the Department of Veterans Affairs were disturbed to discover that a lot of the deaths were due to some risky behavior by the driver – speeding, alcohol, not wearing seat belts, or not wearing motorcycle helmets.

"The bottom line is, these men and women are taught to drive in Iraq and Afghanistan like madmen," said Chuck DeWeese, assistant commissioner of the New York State Governor's Traffic Safety Committee in Albany, N.Y.

While at war, soldiers are trained to look for anything that could be a bomb laying at the side of the road. They could be hidden in animal carcasses or garbage bags. Merging cars could be filled with bombs ready to blow up a tank.

A 2009 Army study showed that while deployed, 50% of soldiers said they were anxious when other cars approached quickly, 23% had driven through stop signs, and 20% were anxious during normal driving.

"When they come back, driving is hard," said DeWeese. "They think they're invincible. They've gone through combat, they think they can live through anything."

Aggressive driving in young soldiers is just one cause of dangerous driving among veterans, Cutright said. Post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injuries could also result in erratic driving, as can medication and self-medicating (using alcohol and illegal drugs) to cope with symptoms. And there is no check to see if the vets should be driving their own car when they get back. Their license is, of course, still valid.

Brain injuries go undetected

A Marine captain from Florida says his traumatic brain injury is to blame for a fatal DUI crash he caused in April 2010. Scott Sciple plowed into another car head-on while driving the wrong way down a Tampa, Fla., highway. The other driver died.

Sciple had earned three Purple Hearts and a Bronze star for heroism for acts in Afghanistan and Iraq. He suffered severe head trauma and nearly died from blood loss. But when he got back to the U.S., he kept driving. He didn't realize many of the mistakes he was making behind the wheel, because he'd often black out.

In a call to his father after the crash, he said he wished he'd died in combat.

"I don't know why I wasn't killed any of the times I was wounded," Sam Sciple quoted his son as saying. "I wish I had been."

Cutright said that when individuals who suffer from traumatic brain injury return home, they may feel as if their driving is normal, but they don't realize that changes have occurred in their brain.

"These changes make it much more difficult to take the information needed to operate a motor vehicle safely," she said.

The Veterans Administration paired up with the Department of Transportation and the Department of Defense to start the Safe Driving Initiative, to increase awareness of car crashes among veterans and to encourage them to continue wearing seat belts and to slow down. And they have been using simulators to re-train drivers on how to drive when they return home. The simulators are particularly helpful with brain injury patients, to identify where help is needed.

And the administration is working to make mental health providers more aware of driving issues with veterans.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 3 Years Ago
      I just read a few of YOUR comments and I'm horrified with you all. My best friend has just had her husband Med. Board out due to Traumatic Brain Injury and PTSD because he was on point while he was stationed in Afghanistan. He survived seven different mortor, IED and rocket attacks. That's not to mention the roadside bombs, ad nauseum, and the house to house fire fights in the supposedly "Green Zone." It's not just the young ones that are dying abroad and at home but returning Vets, regardless. My best friend's husband, Pat, whom I've know since high school, is now in his late thirties and has done three, short tours (I think) since he enlisted almost three years ago. The reality is, the VA doesn't WANT to treat TBI and feels that a soldier doesn't have to think to fire a gun. Our returning soldiers were sold out by Bush and he left Obama to clean up his mess. Obama has done more to end this war during his time in office than Bush did during his two terms. Don't sit there and think that just because they are young that they are naturally poor drivers. Pat was a safe driver before he enlisted. Not so much anymore and it is the military's doing. My best friend picks him up every Friday and takes him back to base on Sunday night, 180 miles one-way. She's doing what she can to keep him safe and his CO, the VA and the government haven't done squat to help him get better. Its not about deprogramming and popping pills, its about getting them the treatment they need and that includes Cognitive Therapy for the TBI and learning new skills to combat the PTSD. Just remember, they need our help and you need to get off your lily-white backsides and petition OUR government to promote cost-effective treatments and therapies for our returning soldiers.
        • 3 Years Ago
        It didnt start with Bush, our government has a long history of ignoring our vets. From what I have seen lately even before Bush left office it started to improve. He even reinstated a lot of benefits that allow me to use the VA again. My father in law served in WWII and Korea and Reagan took away his benefits. I forgot that he also served a short time during Vietnam. Still he and many others were tossed aside for awhile. They have a long way to go, but it is getting somewhat better.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I agree with you.And for a couple of blogs down is prfttaker that boy is so far off it is a shame.Count Bushs,rate of suicide and dont talk about what you dont know.While you are sitting around reaping the benifits.64C20 if you dont know thats my MOS.
      • 3 Years Ago
      For some reason people on these posts seem to think that young males in that age group are a high risk but I've seen quite a number of older people who are bad drivers so this story is way out of line and not true.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Specialist FIRST CLASS
      • 3 Years Ago
      There is no such rank as "specialist first class." Get your facts straight before trying to be a "journalist."
      • 3 Years Ago
      I have PTSD from Vietnam. I have been driving ever since I got back and have not been in an accident yet. Knock o9n wood. I am rated at 70%. I don't blame them for driving agressively. Have you seen all the idiots we keep importing that don't even have licences? If you don't drive aggressively and defensively, then your going to get run over, off the road, or have someone climb up your ass. No disrespect meant. I don't blame them for driving this way.
        • 3 Years Ago
        I know what you mean. I am always telling my wife she drives so careful ...it's dangerous...lol!
      • 3 Years Ago
      More accuracy in reporting. FYI there is no such rank as specialist first class. The rank is Specialist or Spec 4, never specialist first class.
        • 3 Years Ago
        Right...good clarification...and the ''4'' in Spec 4 is from the fact that a Spec 4 is an ''E-1''.
          • 3 Years Ago
          god...I can't believe my typo...I feel like such a dumass...''E-4''...not E-1
        • 3 Years Ago
        Maybe they were talking about a Navy corpsman who wears same uniform in combat as marines. They are ( could be HM1, Petty officer first class)
      • 3 Years Ago
      As a vet, I can tell you that most military personnel do not drive while in country. Those that do are aggressive and drive armoured vehicles on primitive roadways. This story is overstated at best.
      • 3 Years Ago
      First off, "The bottom line is, these men and women are taught to drive in Iraq and Afghanistan like madmen," said Chuck DeWeese, assistant commissioner of the New York State Governor's Traffic Safety Committee in Albany, N.Y." Was this guy driving in any wartorn region with the soldiers of late? Then he shouldn't be allowed to comment. Let a ranking officer who was just there in the fight as of late make these statements. The rest? Understood. How bout everyone who gets home are the only ones entitled to have a certain flag on their antennas? That would give other drivers a heads up as someone who's just gotten home and might be aggressive out of survival. Don't make some BS law about it either. How bout we set aside a fund to pay for their first 12-24 months of auto insurance so long as they use it? Explain to them that they just got home and people are a bit nervous too, but more then willing to work with them on it. As far as this other poor kid who wished he was offed and riddled with guilt over surviving be allowed to take a break for a bit and recover. Give him some kind of housing, food, expense program to do just that. Remember in doing that though that there are others who feel the same as he/she, so the money needs to be carefully planned. Don't make them grovel for !@#$ either. Get some understanding people to assist them with coming up with a budget plan easily. Why is this so hard for people to plan or think of?
        • 3 Years Ago
        I TOTALLY AGREE!!!!!!! i dont care WHAT political side you lean. get the dollars for these mostly youngsters. it pisses me off when we are ALL protected by these brave souls and heros and they come back to party bickering over $$$$$$. tell the republicans that dont want to spend a dime unless it helps banks, wall street, or rich contributors to pony up!!!!!!! they "claim" they pay 90% of the bills. well, this bill is due big boys. PAY IT!!! PUT UP OR SHUT UP!!!!
      • 3 Years Ago
      One thing they didn't discuss is that car accidents are sometimes suicides which cannot be proven, so insurance benefits are preserved for the family . A suicide can cancel an insurance benefit.
      • 3 Years Ago
      Sad story. There is no Veterans Admistration anymore. It was changed years ago to "The Department of Veterans Affairs"
      • 3 Years Ago
      ~~Traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for military personnel in their first year home from the war,~~ A friend told me most folks should not be driving as they are having "out of body" experiences, you know worry about job,health,kids, where they will eat at, how to compete in the world and win etc... Can only imagine what experiences these folks are replaying in their heads. We need to ask those who successfully make it past this time what is going on since they've been there.
      • 3 Years Ago
      What do you know about the Wounded Warrior Program?
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