Combat Veterans Fall Prey to Gambling Addictions at an Alarming Rate

where's the military when the chips are down?

Slot machines first appeared on bases in the 1930s. (In 1951, following passage of the federal Transportation of Gambling Devices Act, the military removed machines from stateside bases. Two decades later the army and air force banned all machines in response to allegations of corruption and mismanagement; they were reinstituted in 1980.)

The Department of Defense has been studying gambling among active-duty service members at least as far back as 1992, when it added the activity to its "Survey of Health Related Behaviors Among Military Personnel" (SHRBAMP), a questionnaire distributed and tabulated every four to six years.

The 1992, 1998 and 2002 surveys suggested elevated rates of probable pathological gambling among active-duty servicemen.

Dreux Perkins came home to Greenville, Illinois, carrying baggage he didn’t have when he was deployed to Iraq with the army’s 101st Airborne: post-traumatic stress disorder and a gambling addiction.
Dreux Perkins came home to Greenville, Illinois, carrying baggage he didn’t have when he was deployed to Iraq with the army’s 101st Airborne: post-traumatic stress disorder and a gambling addiction.
Heather Chapman runs the VA’s only inpatient program for gambling addiction, which is based in Cleveland. “I could easily, without blinking, double the size of the program if we had the beds,” she says.
Heather Chapman runs the VA’s only inpatient program for gambling addiction, which is based in Cleveland. “I could easily, without blinking, double the size of the program if we had the beds,” she says.

The DoD took action: Henceforth, gambling questions were omitted from the survey.

In 2001, prompted by Congress, the Pentagon produced a thirteen-page document titled "Report on the Effect of the Ready Availability of Slot Machines on Members of the Armed Forces, Their Dependents, and Others," which averred that slot machines had no negative effect on the morale or the financial stability of military personnel or their families. "Comparisons of the [SHRBAMP] survey data to the general public cannot readily be made," the authors added. (The Pentagon initially contracted with PricewaterhouseCoopers to conduct the study but terminated the contract after a few months, opting to use its own researchers.) The DoD has not released a slot-machine report since then.

In 2005 The New York Times published a front-page article about the military's gambling operation that described the downfall of Aaron Walsh, a decorated Apache helicopter pilot who became addicted to gambling while stationed in South Korea, where he lost more than $20,000 playing slots. After leaving the military, Walsh wound up homeless in Las Vegas. In 2006 he committed suicide.

Not long afterward, U.S. Rep. Lincoln Davis of Tennessee proposed the "Warrant Officer Aaron Walsh Stop DoD-Sponsored Gambling Act," calling for a ban on military slot machines. "We've got research to show that 30,000 of our troops may be pathological gamblers, and we ought to be ashamed that we're adding to that," Davis told Stars and Stripes in 2008. His bill died in committee.

Dreux Michael Perkins and Emily Gehrig buried their stillborn son, Dayne Michael Perkins, on Valentine's Day. Judge Reagan stayed Perkins' sentencing one week so he could be at Gehrig's bedside. On February 22 Perkins drove with his father to Talladega, Alabama, to begin serving his felony sentence. He says that when he gets out of prison, he hopes to become a PTSD counselor, in order to prevent more cases like his.

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