A recent study of veterans receiving care through the Department of Veterans Affairs revealed that about 8% of U.S. veterans are problem gamblers and an additional 2% are pathological gamblers. The study, funded by the VA Health Services Research and Development, was presented by Joseph J. Westermeyer IV, MD, at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association.

The study revealed some findings about problem gambling among vets that are different than in the general population. For example, rates of problem gambling and pathological gambling were almost identical among male veterans and female veterans, whereas men typically outnumber women by a factor of two to three or more in the general population, according to Dr. Westermeyer. Another rather contrary finding was that people with more alcohol and drug problems tended to have fewer gambling problems. Most other research studies have shown that more substance problems are associated with more gambling problems.

Gambling in the military is an issue that’s been closely followed by the National Council on Problem Gambling. In its June 2010 brief on the topic, the NCPG noted people there are likely at least 40,000 active duty service members with a gambling problem.

According to the NCPG, problem gambling is a hidden addiction that has not been adequately addressed by the military. The brief states “because compulsive gambling has an immediate association with financial matters, its effect on readiness and the overall mental health of service members has been largely overlooked and ignored.”

The NCPG encourages the military to develop clear policy and enforcement of existing rules and regulations regarding gambling. Current approaches appear focused on treating problems associated with problem and pathological gambling as punishable offenses with potentially little or no concern for the individual’s underlying treatable disorder.

To see an interview with Dr. Westermeyer and to read published communications on the subject of veteran gambling, please click here.