WHY MILITARY VETERANS MAKE GOOD COMMERCIAL DRIVERS!
With the shortage of drivers becoming critical within the trucking industry, motor carriers have increasingly looked to new sources of candidates to fill their fleets. One area that has increasingly become more popular is to look at veterans in their search to fill truck driver vacancies and to move freight. The facts are that Veteran CDL drivers typically have a significant advantage over the general population in filling this need. For example, a military veteran is going to meet the minimum age requirement when they leave the military to drive a truck. Additionally, much of the training that was developed in the military can help the driver succeed as a driver.
What are some of these advantages that veterans develop in the military?
- They are already used to being away from family for extended periods. An advantage to long haul truck drivers.
- Situational awareness skills are more honed in veterans making them safer on the road and better able to react to sudden changes in the environment.
- Dependability and being on time is a part of military training which will make them more responsible and dependable.
- They have a better understanding of logistics which will assist them in route planning, cost efficiency and timing.
- Lastly, military drivers are no stranger to long working hours under stressful conditions. They typically stay focused and mentally sharp giving them an advantage over the general population.
There are some challenges the military veterans have the face which are typically not as often encountered by the general population. The most known and understood is PTSD.
WHAT IS PTSD?
PTSD stands for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is a mental or psychiatric disorder that occurs in people who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event or group of events such as those experienced in combat or during war. It has been known by many different names in the past, such as “shell shock” or “combat fatigue”. With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan going on for greater than a decade, more and more veterans who are going into driving commercially have symptoms of or experience the symptoms of PTSD.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS AND HOW IS IT TREATED?
Symptoms of PTSD fall into four broad categories. Each of the specific symptoms mentioned can vary in intensity between individuals affected by the disorder.
- PTSD is often characterized by intrusive thoughts such as repeated, involuntary memories, dreams or even flashbacks.
- Those who suffer from PTSD often avoid anything or anyone that reminds them of the traumatic event(s). It could include people, places, activities, objects and situations that bringh on distressing memories.
- Negative thoughts and feelings may include distorted beliefs about oneself and others such as “I am bad” or “I cannot trust others”. Ongoing fear, anger, guilt or shame are often a part of these feelings.
- It is not uncommon for them to suffer reactive symptoms such as irritability and angry outbursts, behaving recklessly, to even self-destructive behavior.
Is it a wonder that those suffering PTSD are typically treated for depression and severe anxiety? They may attempt suicide and cause harm to others around them. They may retreat from normal human interaction and become distant with family and friends? The reality is that PTSD varies in severity and is often successfully treated and most individuals return to essentially a normal life. Treatment includes psychotherapy (talk therapy) as well as medications (typically antidepressants and some medications used to treat anxiety), as well as group therapy.
One last thing about PTSD however. It is not limited to veterans alone. Anyone who has gone through a traumatic event can suffer from this disorder. Someone who has experienced a significant accident, or has who has lost a close family member or friend who has died accidently or violently can develop PTSD without being in the military. It is a disorder that can affect all of us.
WHAT REGULATIONS AND GUIDANCE IS ATTACHED TO PTSD?
I was recently contacted by a safety director who asked this very question. She had been recently challenged by one of her drivers regarding the issuance of a 1 year card vs. a 2 year card for a driver with PTSD. He wanted to know specifically what the regulation was that limited his card to 1 year.
To understand this, one must understand how these determinations by a medical examiner are made. The overall answer to the drivers question is actually two fold. First, there is a regulation attached to psychiatric disorders. The regulation is 49 CFR 391.41 9 (b) (9).
“The driver has no mental, nervous, organic, or functional disease or psychiatric disorder likely to interfere with his/her ability to drive a commercial motor vehicle safely.”
Obviously this is a very broad statement, but with PTSD and its symptoms it fits the regulation to a “T”. One thing that it does not do however is indicate that a driver should have only a 1 year card.
The second part of the equation, the 1-year certification, is determined elsewhere. To better understand were the 1 year card comes from you must look into guidance that has been developed by the FMCSA over the years for this and many other medical conditions. It is guidance that deepens the understanding of many conditions, not just psychiatric disorders, and assists medical examiners in determining such things as waiting periods, required testing, effects of treatment including concerns with medications, and also and most importantly how long a driver is to be certified for.
For psychiatric disorders such as PTSD, this guidance has existed since the 1990’s and is the result of conference reports, Medical Review Board (MRB) opinions and expert panel discussions that are published all by the FMCSA. The most recent panel discussion on psychiatric disorders occurred in August of 2009. It is within here that one will find guidance for medical examiners as they make their decisions. This includes the determination to provide a 1 year card.
Additionally if the driver suffers symptoms that lead to such things as hospitalization, hallucinations, or suicide attempt, they may be subject to additional requirements prior to receiving certification. This may include a waiting period from between 6 months to a full year prior to certification.
The decisions made by medical examiners concerning this are designed to be in the interest of public safety as well as the as the safety of the individual truck driver. They are based in what the most recent research findings and conclusions indicate about the condition or its treatment and are termed “Best Practice” decisions. This is how a medical examiner utilizes guidance in the decision making process.
Also, these decisions should always include interaction between the medical examiner and your treating provider. Clearance from treating providers is always required. They know and understand your diagnosis and how effective your treatment is and if you are compliant with treatment.
WHAT IS A DRIVER WHO SUFFERS PTSD TO DO?
First and foremost, do not ignore the symptoms. If you, or others around you recognize behavioral differences, it is important to seek help. With treatment the vast majority of military veterans or anyone for that matter, who suffer with PTSD live a happy and healthy life as a truck driver.
Also, do not skip treatment. Follow the directions of your medical providers, take medications as directed if they are provided, and keep up with all other self-help recommendations that may have been prescribed to you.
When you are getting close to the time for a re-certification exam (within two months especially when working with the VA…..it takes a bit longer), begin preparing for your exam. You will need a letter of clearance that your condition and its treatment will not interfere with safely operating a commercial motor vehicle and that you have been compliant with treatment. If you present this to the medical examiner at the time of the exam, you will be certified as long as no other medical conditions of findings interfere with this decision.
Lastly, expect a 1 year card at the most. Typically, all drivers who suffer a mental or psychiatric condition will be provided a 1 year certification as this reflects best practice or guidance as it exists.
Dr. David Thorpe
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