Compulsive gambling advocates turn to military

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Counselors and advocates for gamblers who struggle with their addictions are turning their attention to military veterans.

Veterans cope with numerous problems, such as readjusting to life at home, fighting boredom that contrasts sharply with the experiences of the battlefield and finding easy opportunities to gamble at casinos, the Internet and the neighborhood store where lottery tickets are sold. But helping veterans is difficult because few acknowledge they have a problem and seek help, counselors and other specialists told a Connecticut conference on Wednesday.

“Veterans are less likely to tell us they have a problem with gambling because they’re afraid it will affect their VA benefits,” said Amy Kaplan of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Gambling problems will not cost veterans their benefits, she said at the conference organized by the Connecticut Council on Problem Gambling.

VA gambling treatment services also are limited, she said.

Gabor Kautzner of the New Haven Vet Center said many veterans struggle with an adrenaline rush that continues even after they return from Afghanistan and Iraq.

“They come home and expect to be switched off and return to their regular lives,” he said. “It almost never happens.

He also said veterans with other dependency problems such as alcohol grapple with excessive gambling. Lottery tickets, for example, are sold in liquor stores, which Kautzner called the “worst place you can have scratch-off.”

“They think that’s the one that’s going to bring them out of the hole,” he said.

Counselors and advocates are calling for increased funding to help compulsive gamblers in a booming environment of lotteries and casinos.

An updated classification of compulsive gambling as a psychiatric problem does not promise to automatically yield more government funding for assessment and treatment, an advocate said.

This spring, the American Psychiatric Association updated its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. It replaces as an addiction what was previously called pathological gambling as an impulse-control disorder. Problem gambling now takes its place among substance-related and addictive disorders.

Keith Whyte, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling, said it’s a start as some states bill Medicaid for problem gambling assessment and treatment. And the federal health care law now taking effect did not exclude problem gambling treatment from health conditions that can be funded. In contrast, the Americans with Disabilities Act enacted in 1990 explicitly ruled out gambling addiction for health care treatment reimbursement, he said.

Still, advocates must fight for funding as government spending is cut. “We have to fight for our place at the table,” he said.

Lori Rugle, director of Problem Gambling Services at the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said the upgraded classification “was a long time coming.” It had been in the psychiatric manual since 1980, but impulse control disorders were not identified, she said.


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