“Land of the free, home of the brave.” — this long-standing sentiment was further supported on October 31, 2019, when President Trump signed a proclamation designating November as National Veterans and Military Families Month. In the U.S., there are roughly 18 million veterans and about 57% of adults ages 30-49 who say they have an immediate family member who served — meaning most of us know someone who is currently serving or who has served in the military in the past. 
While this month is a chance to celebrate the brave men and women who’ve fought for our freedom, it should also serve as an important reminder that the battle doesn’t always end with a return home, and it doesn’t solely affect the service member.
According to published reports, both active and retired military members and their families are susceptible to gambling problems. The armed forces are comprised of many men and women who are accustomed to taking risks and pushing themselves to the limit. Many are young, athletic, and highly competitive. Florida houses a large number of veterans, who must manage the transition out of active military duty due to service completion or retirement, a change in life conditions, or other circumstances. Similarly, military family members face numerous pressures, such as relocations and separations from loved ones. A gambling problem can surface for military personnel, veterans and their families when the need for a distraction or an escape becomes an unhealthy coping mechanism, routine or addiction. In times of war, military personnel and family members are particularly vulnerable for developing gambling related difficulties, in light of heightened stress and anxiety levels.
The Impact of Problem Gambling on Veterans & Military Families
The issue of problem gambling can begin long before enlistment ends, priming service members to continue this behavior when they return home. On overseas bases, there are an estimated 3,000 slot machines solely regulated by the Department of Defense and available to soldiers as young as 18.  With little else to entertain them, those who may have not participated in gambling activities otherwise, may develop a gambling problem and have limited access to resources for help or adequate supports.
Research shows that 75% of servicemen who exit the military, typically around ages 40-45 after serving for 20 years, develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  This disorder typically makes individuals more vulnerable to addiction, with 34% of all problem gamblers reporting being diagnosed with PTSD.  As soldiers struggle to adjust to the vastly different lifestyle of retirement, especially at such a young age, gambling can seem like a welcome escape from the stress. However, we know that this relief does not last, and they will continue to push the bounds of their gambling frequency and stakes to keep feeling the adrenaline rush problem gamblers crave. Unfortunately, problem gambling and PTSD can both lead to an increased likelihood of other mental health issues and substance abuse problems.
Another major issue facing military personnel who suffer from gambling disorder, is the fear of seeking help. While, as a society, we’ve made great strides to emphasize the importance of mental health, there is still a stigma attached to problem gambling that prevents many people from reaching out for help. This is even more common among soldiers, who often pride themselves on toughness and self-reliance. 
How You Can Help
This National Veterans and Military Families Month, let’s help serve those who have served our country and their loved ones by increasing awareness of problem gambling and providing access to confidential supports. If you or someone you know is experiencing difficulties due to gambling, start the journey of recovery today by contacting the confidential, multilingual, free, 24/7 Problem Gambling HelpLine at 888-ADMIT-IT (888-236-4848), texting (321-978-0555), emailing (firstname.lastname@example.org), chatting (gamblinghelp.org), or visiting us on our mobile app or on social media.
- “The Military-Civilian Gap: Fewer Family Connections.” Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project, Pew Research Center, 30 May 2020, https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2011/11/23/the-military-civilian-gap-fewer-family-connections/.
- Means, Gabby. “U.S. Military-Run Slot Machines Earn $100 Million a Year from Service Members Overseas.” NPR, NPR, 31 July 2022, https://www.npr.org/2022/07/31/1110882487/dod-slot-machines-overseas-bases#:~:text=Wayne%20Parry%2FAP-,The%20U.S.%20military%20runs%20more%20than%203%2C000%20slot%20machines%20on,organization%20that%20advocates%20for%20services.
- Elflein, John. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder during Service after 9/11 among Veterans U.S. 2021.” Statista, 10 Mar. 2022, https://www.statista.com/statistics/1202701/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-during-service-after-911-by-problem-veterans/.
- Tull , Matthew. “You Can Get Help If You Have PTSD and Cannot Stop Gambling.” Verywell Mind, Verywell Mind, 30 Apr. 2021, https://www.verywellmind.com/ptsd-and-gambling-2797144.
- Brown, Amy. “Military Stigma: Substance Abuse and Mental Health.” American Addiction Centers, 15 Sept. 2022, https://americanaddictioncenters.org/veterans/stigma-impacts.