Gambling addiction among military draws attention


Author Dave Yeager, left, talks with Jeffrey P. Wasserman during the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems event at the Rollins Center on Thursday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

DOVER — The only real noise they generate is the seemingly constant clanging of change streaming out of slot machines or the clack, clack, clack of the roulette wheel.

Other than that, the estimated 10 percent of military members and veterans who are battling with gambling addiction are fighting what one official calls “a virtually silent problem.”

Jeff Wasserman, the judicial outreach and development director for the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems, wants to make some noise of his own and put a spotlight on the military and problem gambling.

That’s why he served as the program chair for the first conference addressing the issue of gambling addiction — called Service Members, Veterans and Gambling Addiction — at the Dover Downs Hotel and Conference Center on Thursday.

While the conference’s location near the Dover Downs casino certainly raised some eyebrows, Mr. Wasserman downplayed the issue, noting that the venue was about five miles from the entrance to Dover Air Force Base.

He said that most leaders in the casino and gaming industry, much like the DCGP, actually do not want to see troubled, problem gamblers in their casinos. He said it gives a black-eye to the industry.

“There’s a recognition by both sides (the gaming industry and the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems) that most people can gamble recreationally, for entertainment, but like with alcohol, there’s a certain minority of the population that can’t — and that’s the focus of the mission that we have, to focus on that minority,” Mr. Wasserman said.

A growing issue among veterans

Mr. Wasserman said gambling troubles among military members and veterans is a growing problem with potentially far-reaching consequences.

“This is an event where we try to focus on something that is within our mission which is problem gambling, but we’re focusing on a particular population — the military veterans population,” he said. “The reason why we are doing that is because they are a high at-risk population.

“Not only are we providing the general information on how to get treated for or how to prevent the addiction, but we’re really tailoring it towards the veteran community.”

Thursday’s conference, believed to be among the first of its kind in the United States, was a day-long event that was broken down into six panel discussions that all addressed veterans and problem gambling.

Several speakers, including keynote speaker Dr. Heather Chapman, provided the 100 or so attendees with valuable information for veterans with gambling disorders, the impact of addiction, treatment programs, resources and more.

There were also peer presentations where veterans in recovery from gambling addiction shared their struggles, challenges and successes.

Personal stories and triumphs

Philadelphia native and author Dave Yeager, who served 11 years in the U.S. Army, spoke about his experiences with gambling that led him to write a book titled, “Be Happy with Crappy: A Journey Through Trauma, Addiction, Rock-Bottom and Recovery.”

“This is super important to me to get the word out, especially to veterans,” Mr. Yeager said. “There’s not enough said in the military and for veterans to bring this problem to light and to make people aware of it. Being able to do something like this is therapeutic for me.”

Mr. Yeager said the military lifestyle can help fuel gambling addiction.

“For me it was a lifetime of build-up and the military just added to that,” he said. “In the military everything is structured … everything is mission-focused. So, you’re mission, mission, mission, mission, and then you come back here and there’s no mission anymore.

“There’s no real focus and there’s not that high intensity anymore and you’re not really sure where the outlet is. Gambling was part of the outlet.”

Mr. Yeager is certainly not alone, according to Mr. Wasserman.

“The numbers suggest that about 10 percent of veterans have some level of problem gambling,” said Mr. Wasserman. “Active duty alone, the latest statistic I saw, showed that 56,000 active-duty service members have a problem with gambling.

“That’s alarming, not only because of the impact it has on themselves and their families, but it becomes a national security issue in some cases because people who have gambling problems might be more vulnerable because of their obsession and compulsion to get money to gamble.”

He said the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems has seen a steady growth in awareness of and support for prevention and treatment of gambling addiction in general.

However, he noted that until recently, the gambling troubles of military members and veterans had gone largely unaddressed.

Perception differs from reality

Arlene Simon, the executive director for the Delaware Council on Gambling Problems, said the problem might have gone silent and unnoticed because of the perception the public has when it comes to the military.

“Members of the military are seen as strong, courageous, highly disciplined and almost invincible individuals,” Ms. Simon said. “Consequently, I think their susceptibility to addiction gets overlooked.

“But in reality, active military and veterans are human like everyone else — and frequently they experience the trauma, substance addictions and mental health challenges that can give rise to problem gambling.”

In addition to reaching out to active duty service members and veterans, the program also focused on empowering family members and friends to recognize potential gambling problems and to support their loved ones on their journey of recovery.

“We have seen gambling addiction impact far too many military service members, veterans and their families, and that’s why it’s so important we work to enable everyone — loved ones, co-workers and even healthcare professionals — to build a foundation of support,” Ms. Simon said. “Thousands of individuals who valiantly served our country are now in need of our help.

“They are at risk of financial collapse, legal issues, loss of career and family and possibly loss of life. It is our turn to defend and support them, and through this event, DCGP is confident we will put the wheels in motion.”

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