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. DRCE is the first driving rehabilitation program offering a full suite of services aimed at helping people who are either injured or physically challenged get back behind the wheel.
The pair 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. Himan, one of her patients, was left paralyzed from the waist down after his vehicle drove over an IED during the last month of his deployment in 2009.
Himan said “During my time in the hospital, you know, one of their things was, what can I do back in society again? They told me that I had the ability to drive…but the problem was trying to put the whole package together.” 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?”
Himan said trying to figure out the Veteran Affairs paperwork proved to be very distressing so he called Phipps for help in 2013. He said she helped him with the entire process, including the paperwork and actually got him driving back on the road. 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. Part of the problem is there are only around 400 occupational therapists that do driving rehabilitation and that number gets smaller and smaller, the more complex the cases become.
Himan said being able to drive again was a life changing moment for him and he knew that people like him were all over the world. The two decided to address the huge gap in services for veterans and for all people with disabilities in the area. Based 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. Veterans are not the only ones benefiting from these services, over the past five years, DRCE has helped hundreds of people who are severely injured get back out on the road and transition back into the world of mobility.