445th Airman helps disabled veterans stay ‘on track’

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Ethan Spickler
  • 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Confronting the realities of service-connected disabilities in veterans requires patience, understanding and vigilance. Among the most difficult disabilities to cope with is post-traumatic stress disorder.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website, PTSD is defined as a mental health disorder that is caused by an event or series of events that are traumatic in nature. The symptoms can include but are not limited to anxiety, reliving of the events that caused the trauma and an inability to cope with social and personal circumstances.

Those who struggle with PTSD often have a fear of crowds and are always operating with a heightened sense of awareness, even in areas that seem safe or comfortable to others. Many veterans struggle with PTSD and a variety of other service-connected disabilities, and protecting their health and safety remains a constant challenge.

A maintenance officer with the 445th Maintenance Group, Maj. Nathan Lowman knows from experience what challenges veterans face and one of the ways they can be confronted. In 2015, he became involved with the southern Ohio chapter of an organization called Racing4Vets. That same year, he served as the team captain of the organization’s racing team, participating in sponsored races, and leading veterans in confronting their challenges on and off the track.

“I met this group of guys with service-connected disabilities who enjoyed racing,” said Lowman. “Through motorsports, we can integrate veterans with society. Having veterans out there racing and working with other veterans who know what they’ve been through and have their backs gives them a sense of security and allows them to concentrate on enjoying life.”

In January of 2013, Racing4Vets launched a partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to formally include indoor kart racing as a physical and cognitive development activity in the Cincinnati Veterans Administration PTSD/TBI (traumatic brain injury) rehabilitation program at Fort Thomas, Kentucky.  This intensive program is open to male and female veterans from all U.S. military branches.  

Approximately 20-30 veterans from the VA program attend monthly indoor kart racing events run by Racing4Vets at Full Throttle Indoor Karting in Springdale, Ohio. The partnership’s approach to veterans’ health issues is direct: confront disabilities head-on by teaching veterans how to safely operate high-performance go-karts and helping them tackle their anxiety and negative emotions by broadening their experiences and spending time with other veterans. This sense of control and camaraderie is crucial on the track, and it is also a necessity in the everyday life of those struggling with service-connected disabilities like PTSD.

“Whether working with Racing4Vets gives them control, confidence to go out in crowds, or offers a way to relieve the pressure of dealing with their individual challenges, it seems to provide an outlet for dealing with the things they have been through,” said Lowman. “That is what this organization is all about.”

Though the challenges of service-connected disabilities may seem daunting for veterans dealing with the day-to-day struggles those disabilities cause, Airmen like Maj. Lowman, and organizations like Racing4Vets and Veterans Affairs are prepared to stand in support of these veterans. This willingness to aid those in need demonstrates the importance of selfless service and camaraderie. In the military operational environment, it is expected that the well-being of service members is accounted for. At home also, America’s veterans should not be left behind.