August 02, 2019

Warren, Daines, Lee Seek Answers from Defense Dept. on Efforts to Address Gambling Addiction Among Servicemembers

Lawmakers Request Update on DOD Implementation of GAO Recommendations on Gambling Disorder in Military

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.), along with Representative Susie Lee (D-Nev.), sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) requesting information on the DOD's efforts to track and reduce the prevalence of gambling disorder among our nation's servicemembers. The lawmakers' letter requests an update on the DOD's progress in implementing recommendations made in 2017 by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) related to DOD guidance documents on addictive disorders, as well as the implementation of the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act requirement to track gambling disorder in DOD health assessments.

Gambling disorder is a public health concern similar to other addictive disorders and is correlated with an increased incidence of suicide attempts, substance use disorders, and other behavioral health conditions.  An estimated 56,000 active duty servicemembers meet the criteria for gambling disorder, and research indicates that veterans' rates of gambling problems are more than twice those of the general population. The prevalence of gambling disorder in the military is a serious health and financial issue and also poses national security concerns by harming individual readiness and human performance and increasing affected servicemembers' susceptibility to blackmail and other malign influence.

2017 study by the GAO, requested by Senator Warren, found that despite having over 3,000 slot machines on military installations across the world, the DOD does not systematically screen military personnel for gambling disorder. In its report, the GAO recommended that the DOD take multiple executive actions to improve its response to gambling disorder, including that the DOD update military service policies to explicitly address gambling disorder in behavioral health guidance documents and "incorporate medical screening questions specific to gambling disorder as part of a systematic screening process."

In addition, Congress included a provision in the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (FY19 NDAA)-based on the bipartisan Gambling Addiction Prevention (GAP) Act-requiring the DOD to include gambling disorder screening questions in health assessments for members of the Armed Forces.

In their letter, addressed to Thomas McCaffery, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, the lawmakers requested an update on the DOD's efforts to implement the GAO recommendations and FY19 NDAA provision and asked the DOD to respond to a series of questions by August 15, 2019.

"We remain committed to ensuring that servicemembers and veterans suffering from gambling addiction get the help they need and deserve," the lawmakers wrote. "We therefore request an update in writing on DOD's progress toward implementing GAO's recommendations and the FY19 NDAA requirements, as well as any new DOD policies and programs aimed at preventing and treating gambling problems within the military community."

The Gambling Addiction Prevention (GAP) Act, originally introduced in 2018, required DOD to include gambling disorder screening questions in health assessments for members of the Armed Forces and in other survey and research efforts. In 2018, language based on this provision of the GAP Act was signed into law as part of the FY19 NDAA. The updated GAP Act of 2019, introduced by Senators Warren, Daines, and Representative Lee, would require the DOD to develop policies and programs to prevent and treat gambling problems, in coordination with the Department's other behavioral health efforts.