The Department of Defense should screen military personnel for problem gambling, concludes a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The watchdog said it was concerned that the DOD had no clear guidance addressing gambling disorders, as it does with other disorders.
It also emphasized that DOD data, which showed that less than 0.03 percent of the average number of service members per year were diagnosed with problem gambling disorder, is likely to be misleading because few sufferers seek treatment directly.
“DOD officials stated they do not screen for gambling disorder because they focus on mental health disorders that are high risk to overall readiness, high volume, and have validated measures for assessment,” said GAO in its findings. “While gambling disorder is not a frequently diagnosed condition, the preoccupation with gambling, financial hardship, and increased risk of suicide can pose a risk to individual readiness.”
DOD Makes $100 Million a Year from Slots
The report was requested by US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) in 2015. Following the revelation that the DOD operates some 3,000 slot machines at US military bases across the world, she asked whether further resources were needed to help US servicemen battling gambling addiction.
The slots yield estimated annual revenues of $100 million per year, none of which goes back into funding problem gambling help programs for service members. This is despite the fact that Congress passed a law in 1951 banning slot machines from domestic US military bases.
The report found the machines are found predominantly in US army bases in Japan and Germany, while the Navy has them in Korea, Italy, Spain, Diego Garcia, Greece and Singapore.
“If the military is going to operate gambling facilities that bring in tens of millions of dollars in revenue, it also needs to ensure there is adequate prevention, treatment, and financial counseling available for service members struggling with gambling addictions,” said Warren.
Responding to the report, the DOD said it disputed the need for screening, although it added that it would amend its policies to promote education and awareness of problem gambling.
“There is no evidence to suggest that gambling disorder is a high prevalence disorder in the DOD, and it is impractical to screen for every low prevalence disorder,” it asserted.
But this ignores several studies that have indicated the opposite. Recent research by the University of Georgia, for example, found that rates of pathological and problem gambling were much higher than average among veterans, military recruits and current service members.
“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,” the study said.
“Furthermore, military and veteran populations are more prone to substance abuse, mental health problems, and suicide, all of which are highly co-morbid with problem gambling.”