A fighting chance? | STLPR

Department of Defense benefits from overseas slots as problem of gambling among military personnel goes largely undiagnosed

In August 2018, President Trump signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), to fund the country’s military operations for fiscal year 2019. It includes a provision that has been absent for about 15 years: mandatory screening. problem gambling for members of the Armed Forces.

The National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) reports that approximately 56,000 active duty service members are problem gamblers out of more than one million serving men and women. The Department of Defense (DoD) reports that about 120 active military personnel sought treatment in 2017. About 10 percent of veterans using Veterans Services are problem gamblers, according to the NCPG.

[Problem Gambling is] gambling behaviors that compromise, disrupt or interfere with personal, family or professional activities. Characterized by increasing preoccupation with gambling, a need to bet more money more frequently, restlessness or irritability when trying to stop and “chase” losses.

National Problem Gambling Council

Members of the Armed Forces serving overseas don’t have to look far to find ways to play. There are around 2,000 slot machines (not 3,000 as some have reported) at over 60 overseas bases. The DoD generates $100 million each year from active duty military personnel playing these slot machines.

No money goes to problem gambling treatment.

Who serves ? There are 1.2 million active duty military personnel. Racial and ethnic minority groups make up 40% of active duty military personnel.

defense department

Jessica Maxwell, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of Defense’s office, said the slot machines “are provided on overseas military installations as recreational options for eligible morale, welfare, and recreation (active duty, family members, DoD civilians, and foreign civilians.) Revenues are returned to programs to support other recreational activities.

US bases phased out slot machines in the 1950s, but bingo is played at 72 of the roughly 418 US bases, Maxwell said.

“It is clear that the Department of Defense is in some ways a large casino operator, given that they have thousands of slot machines on our bases overseas in addition to a huge amount of on-site bingo. across the continental United States,” Keith Whyte said. , CEO of the NCPG.

Biggest risk

Screening questions to detect problem gambling in the military were discontinued in the early 2000s. The NCPG has since lobbied to reinstate these questions, as military personnel tend to be at higher risk for problem gambling than some others. groups.

Maxwell contradicted the risk claim and said the screening questions were dropped “because the prevalence of disease in the military population was low.”

Screening questions are back now, in part, Maxwell said, because “problem gambling often heralds other treatable addictions and mental health issues. Additionally, problem gambling is a security threat in that those affected could be compromised by adversaries.

Today, it is estimated that approximately 2 million, or 1% of adults, in the United States meet the criteria for pathological (severe) gambling. Another 4-6 million would be considered problem gamblers.

About 2% of active military members meet the criteria for problem gambling.

“The other important part of screening is that unlike drug addiction or other disorders that have more outward physical signs, gambling addiction is what we often call hidden addiction,” Whyte said.

Why is gambling addictive? Gambling can stimulate the brain’s reward system just like drugs or alcohol, leading to addiction. We do not understand exactly what drives someone to gamble compulsively. Like many problems, problem gambling can result from a combination of biological, genetic and environmental factors.

Mayo Clinic

He said that because the military stopped testing, a whole generation went undiagnosed and untreated. And soldiers often suffer in silence.

“They don’t want to lose their security clearance,” Whyte said. “They may not even know that what they have is a treatable disorder. A lot of people on the outside think it’s just bad money management, or that you’re immoral for the game in the first place, or that you’re weak because you can’t stop.

These and other concerns – including separation from a unit or fear that a crime has been committed because of gambling – are the reasons addiction goes unreported in many cases.

Whyte and other advocates say veterans also have higher rates of problem gambling than the rest of the population. In 2012, he wrote a letter to US Secretary Eric Shinseki, then Chief of Veterans Affairs:

“Gaming addiction is a serious health issue that affects veterans and active duty military. It strongly co-exists with other serious conditions and complicates the treatment of these disorders,” the letter read.

“Despite overwhelming evidence that pathological gambling is a common and complicated comorbidity, veterans who seek mental health or addictions care in VHA are generally not screened for problem gambling and problem gambling has not been integrated into substance use disorders, co-occurring disorders or mental health treatment programs.”

The NDAA provision for screening does not include veterans.

In the first line

The VA Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri.

Marcena Gunter, a spokesperson for Veterans Affairs (VA), said internet gambling also allows members of overseas armed forces easy access to the game. Once they leave the military , many veterans the agency works with become addicted to video slots. Homeless veterans seem to be more addicted to scratch cards and the lottery, she said.

One counseling service that helps drug addicts who are veterans and active military members is the Life Crisis Center housed at Provident, Inc., in St. Louis.

People struggling with a variety of mental health issues can call the 24-hour helpline for free advice over the phone. The hotline is funded in part by money provided by the state gaming commission.

Missouri spends an average of 4 cents per capita, or $258,000 per year, on problem gambling services and treatment. The national average is 37 cents per capita.

2016 Survey of Problem Gambling Services in the United States

The center receives hundreds of calls a day through Missouri’s 1-888BetsOff hotline, operated by an alliance of public agencies. On a Friday afternoon in early October, counselors at the center had responded to 77 calls since midnight. That’s about six calls per hour.

Clinician Jessica Vance pointed to her computer screen to show questions asked by counselors, including whether callers are at risk for suicide. According to the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling, up to half of people in treatment for problem gambling disorder have thought about suicide and about 17% have attempted it.

“We try to assess suicide on as many gambling calls as possible because it’s often symptomatic of a struggle with gambling addiction,” Vance said. “And I don’t know the stats on the part of our play callers that are veterans, but I would say that’s a good part of them.”

Clinician Mallory Price explains how she handles a call.

Provident clinicians who handle calls from problem gamblers said one of the biggest barriers for callers is shame. They say callers struggle to understand that gambling is a valid addiction similar to other addiction issues.

“Maybe there’s a traumatic story, maybe something horrible that they witnessed in the line of duty,” Vance said. “But sometimes that’s not the case. Sometimes people play just because it’s fun. It is legal. It is a stress release. Sometimes it’s something people do to deal with loneliness, and then it can spiral out of control and turn into an addiction.

A victory?

It took about a decade for lawmakers and the federal government to turn their attention to problem gambling among active military personnel.

Senator Elizabeth Warren speaking before the Armed Services Committee,
In November 2018, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) asked Thomas McCaffery, candidate for Deputy Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, about problem gambling and the military.

In 2015, the Senate passed an amendment introduced by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) requiring the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to produce a study on problem gambling in the military.

Two years later, the GAO released this report, which sheds light on the fact that there are thousands of slot machines on military installations overseas, but the DoD does not routinely screen military personnel for unrest. The GAO has recommended that the DoD incorporate questions about gambling disorders into its annual health assessments and DoD-wide surveys.

In June 2017, Warren introduced the Prevention and Treatment of Gambling Disorders into the 2017 Military Act, which would require the DoD to screen service members for gambling disorders and include gambling disorders in certain investigations.

This provision was not included in the Senate version of the 2018 NDAA. In 2018, Warren tried again, working with Senator Ted Daines (R-MT) to introduce a new bill, the addiction prevention, which included the provision requiring the DoD to screen and interview service members for gambling disorders, as well as a new provision requiring the DoD to develop policies and programs to prevent and treat gambling problems. This measure was incorporated into the 2019 NDAA which was adopted and signed by the President.

In November, Warren interviewed Thomas McCaffery, candidate for Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, on the issue of problem gambling and the military.

Referring to overseas slots, she asked, “Do you think it’s a good idea to have slots on these bases to fund other recreational activities?”

McCaffery said he was unaware of the slots on the bases, but pledged to give his attention to the issue and how it “links to some of the [Sen. Warren’s] concerns about gambling disorders. He then pledged to enforce the provision of the NDAA.

NCPG’s Whyte would like to see the government go even further.

“Our call (in addition to testing) is simply that they dedicate some of that money to making sure that, again, their own troops and dependents get prevention education and treatment. adequate and effective,” Whyte said. “It’s a simple proposition if you’re exploiting profits through gambling, you need to minimize the damage.”

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