Womack Army Medical Center has a 118-vehicle fleet, the third largest in the Defense Health Agency. One of those vehicles does more than get a person or cargo to their destination. It is a rehabilitation vehicle that builds confidence for a service member, diligently working to regain independence in their life after a traumatic brain injury.
John Turner, WAMC transportation specialist, manages the WAMC vehicle fleet, ensuring the rehabilitation vehicle, and all other vehicles are used and effectively maintained.
“It’s a great thing to put service members back into day-to-day life activities that we all take for granted,” he said. “I have been at WAMC 22 years, 11 years in fleet management, and we have had a vehicle like this since I took over the fleet. They have had great success with it.
“This rehabilitating training mechanism is for people who have a TBI or an amputated foot, where they can’t press on the gas, or they have no sensitivity that they are pressing on the gas. The occupational therapist can apply the break, apply the gas, and assist with steering from the passenger seat, if needed,” said Turner.
The occupational therapists at the Intrepid Spirit Center perform multiple in-office cognitive and motor tests or screens that have been shown to correlate with one’s ability to operate a motor vehicle. Each screen has a passing standard.
Based on the service member’s performance on these screens, a determination is made to proceed to the next portion of the evaluation, the driving simulator. After passing the driving simulator, they may proceed to the on-road portion of the exam.
“The goal for each evaluation is to make sure that service members have the physical and cognitive abilities to safely operate a motor vehicle independently,” said Todd Smith, WAMC Intrepid Spirit Center occupational therapist.
During the on-road drive portion of the exam, the service member drives a pre-determined loop on Fort Bragg and around the Fayetteville area.
The focus is to make sure the service member can maintain the vehicle in their lane, maintain the speed limit, use proper signals, brake appropriately, multi-task, and all other guidelines based on the North Carolina Division of Motor Vehicles regulations and recommendations from the North Carolina DMV Medical Boards.
This comprehensive driving evaluation also follows clinical best practice guidelines, provided by the Association for Driver Rehabilitation Specialists.
“Some of the patients report feeling more confident after completing the evaluation,” said Smith. “The findings are then reported to their case manager and provider.”
In addition to using the vehicle for rehabilitation and testing, it is also used to transport patients to the Intrepid’s other programs, the John E. Pechmann Fishing and Education Center, for fly-tying class and to Equine therapy in Southern Pines, North Carolina.
For more information about the Driver Rehabilitation program, call 910-907-7383 or visit [https://womack.tricare.mil/Health-Services/Specialty-Care/Brain-Injury-Medicine].