$717 Billion US Defense Bill Orders Screening of Military Personnel for Problem Gambling

Posted on: August 15, 2018, 06:58h. 

Last updated on: August 15, 2018, 08:22h.

On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump signed into the law the $717 billion National Defense Authorization Act, describing it as “the most significant investment in our military and warfighters in modern history.”

National Defense Authorization Act
US President Donald Trump signs the National Defense Authorization Act on Tuesday at Fort Drum in Upstate New York, home of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division. (Image: Reuters)

While the bill authorizes the Pentagon to splurge on the “finest planes, and ships and tanks and missiles,” according to Trump, it also contains a provision that has been on the legislative agenda for 16 years — the screening of military personnel for gambling disorders.

The measure follows concerns about high rates of problem gambling among active duty personnel. Last year, a report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), requested by US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), concluded that the Department of Defense had “no clear guidance” on addressing gambling disorders has it had with other disorders.

DoD Gets Defensive

Section 733 of the defense spending bill states “the Secretary of Defense shall incorporate medical screening questions specific to gambling disorder into the Annual Periodic Health Assessments of members of the Armed Forces conducted by the Department of Defense during the one-year period beginning 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act.”

The Secretary of Defense is required to submit a report to Congress on the findings of the assessment.

Screening for problem gambling was included in large-scale surveys of military personnel throughout the 1990’s but the policy was halted in 2002. In response to last year’s GOA report, the DoD said there was “no evidence” problem gambling was a high-prevalence disorder in the military, adding that it was “impractical to screen for every low prevalence disorder.”

Military Machines

But this is not borne out by the DoD’s own research undertaken in the 1990s and early 2000s, or by more contemporary independent studies, according to the NCPG executive director Keith Whyte.

Previous DoD surveys have found active duty personnel are two to three times more likely to have gambling problems than civilians,” Whyte told SBC Americas. “Better detection of gambling problems improves overall health and reduces social costs. Undetected gambling addiction exacerbates substance use disorders, depression and suicidal behavior.”

“NCPG strongly believes military personnel need and deserve effective gambling addiction prevention, education, treatment, enforcement, research, responsible gaming and recovery services. With the provision requiring members of the Armed Forces to be screened for gambling addiction, championed by Senator Elizabeth Warren, we take a vital step to improving the lives of service members and their families.”

Warren was moved to take up the issue when she learned that the DoD operates some 3,141 slot machines on overseas US military bases, which rake in $100 million a year — none of which goes towards helping personnel with gambling problems. This is despite the fact that slots have been banned at domestic bases since 1951.