By Al Gesregan
When military personnel are screened for mental health issues, they are not screened for their gambling habits. They are screened for alcohol and drug use, but nothing about gambling. Even if they are in treatment for an addiction, gambling is not brought up.
Currently, the U.S. Department of Defense reports that we have military bases in 150 countries, with 1.3 million men and women in active duty. Ninety-eight percent of our bases have enlisted and officers' clubs, and in each club there is a room set aside for slot machines. There are 3,000 slot machines on our military bases overseas, generating over 130 million dollars every year for our government, and they don't just limit the gambling to slot machines. Every club has a Bingo night three or four times a month. One or two times a month, they have what is called a Monte Carlo night, where the main room in the club is filled with poker tables, crap tables and Chuck-a-Luck games.
Slot machines are not allowed on bases in the United States, but they do allow Bingo and Monte Carlo nights. There are several clubs on military bases in the U.S. that have Bingo 4 and 5 times a week.
Internet gambling and mobile gambling allow our service men and women to gamble from anywhere. All that is needed is an iPad or smartphone, and gambling can easily get underway in their barracks, helicopters, military briefings, and even in the field.
Our Young Warriors:
Most of the men and women who join our military are classified as "Type A" personalities. They are young, single, overconfident, risk taking men and women, who are looking for excitement and adventure. There are two types of gamblers-the action gambler and the escape gambler. The majority of men are action gamblers and most women are escape gamblers. In the military, that same person can be both. When coming off a harrowing successful mission, adrenaline is at its peak. But like any high, it's going to come down.
They want to maintain that high, and gambling will restore that feeling. On the other hand, that same person will want to escape the feeling of being exposed to violent combat, killing another person or seeing one of his/her own killed. Gambling will allow him/her to temporarily forget all those negative feelings.
When our men and women return home from deployment, they can bring with them many negative issues. Some struggle to cope with civilian life after serving in the military. They use gambling to deliver that kick of adrenaline that they miss when they're no longer in the field. For others, it is simply used as a form of escapism to help stop their minds from focusing on remembering the horrors that they witnessed during combat.
The VA Homeless Council of NY/NJ identified problem gambling as a barrier for obtaining permanent housing. If a homeless veteran receives financial assistance, and continues to lose it every month because of gambling, he/she will never have enough money for a permanent home.
The American Psychological Association assessed 154 homeless veterans for substance abuse. They measured employment, housing, coping skills, and gambling. The results indicated that the majority of the homeless veterans were unemployed, with bad coping skills, and use gambling as an escape. Both the VA Homeless Council and the American Psychological Association recommend screening for a gambling disorder.
Research suggests that military personnel are at risk of experiencing negative consequences as a result of gambling related issues such as stress from financial debts, which may have a negative effect on military readiness. Research also indicates that military and veteran populations are more prone to substance abuse, mental health problems, and suicide, all of which are highly associated with problem gambling.
Problem gambling behaviors are often hidden by other addictions and mental health problems. Among veterans in treatment for substance abuse, thirty-three percent met criteria for problem gambling.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), an affliction that many military personnel and veterans face, is associated with high levels of comorbidity, including substance abuse, anxiety, depression, personality disorders, and problem gambling. A study of veterans found that problem gambling behavior among those with PTSD often occurred as a way to escape current problems, such as dysphoric moods.
DOD Shows Low Numbers:
The U.S. Department of Defense reports that the numbers are low for veterans and active duty personnel seeking treatment for gambling. There are several reasons for that.
People suffering from an addiction, whether it's alcohol, drugs or gambling, don't just wake up one morning and think, "I have been gambling too much lately. I think I'll get some help." Most are forced into treatment by the courts, employers or family members. Most won't volunteer information unless they are asked about it.
Another reason that the numbers are low could be because no one asks about gambling. If you were to take questions about alcohol or drugs out of the assessment tool, you would see those numbers drop drastically.
There is a clear need to screen military personnel and veterans for problem gambling. Screening those at risk and suffering from problem gambling provides opportunities to intervene, and reduce the incidence and prevalence of problem gambling, as well as alleviate associated impacts to public health.
Screening for problem gambling will also reduce the social costs of problem gambling, save money for taxpayers, and saves lives.