Seminar trains workers in helping servicemembers with gambling problems
Stars and Stripes May 28, 2003
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Gambling counselor Joanna Franklin recounted the time a client sold a rental car for $500 to play slot machines.
“It wasn’t even his to sell,” she said during a training seminar, Problem Gambling in the Military, held at Camp Foster last week.
“It was a rental car,” she repeated for emphasis. “He reported it stolen.”
About 45 counselors, social workers, psychologists, mental health workers and psychiatric technicians attended the four-day seminar that ended Friday at Foster’s Globe and Anchor enlisted club.
As Franklin spoke, the faint sound of dinging bells filtered through the walls of the conference room from the slot-machine room next door.
The military-sponsored conference was the first of its kind, said Franklin, adding that the training is sorely needed.
The percentage of compulsive gamblers in the military is about the same as the percentage of compulsive gamblers living in Las Vegas.
“It certainly is a problem,” she said.
As director of training for Trimeridian, a consulting firm that provides resources and counseling for gambling problems, Franklin tracks gambling trends.
A 1998 Defense Department health survey, she noted, classified 2.2 percent of 17,000 military respondents as pathological gamblers. Another 8.1 percent of the respondents showed indications of problem gambling.
In Las Vegas, roughly 6 percent of the populace shows indications of gambling problems and another 2 to 3 percent are pathological, she said. The American Psychiatric Association defines pathological gambling as a disorder of impulse control.
“We’ve put training programs in place in the States, but looking at the military, holy cow, they’re still back in the ’60s,” Franklin said.
Military officials agree.
“It’s a disorder we haven’t been treating,” acknowledged Navy Lt. Carrie Kennedy, who heads Foster’s Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Department, which falls under the Camp Lester Naval Hospital.
Traditionally, Kennedy said, people on Okinawa seeking help for gambling problems received referrals to the hospital’s mental health department for assessments. But no real treatment or recovery programs existed, she said, adding that many people shied from getting assessments because of the stigma associated with seeing mental health practitioners.
Often clients found themselves in an endless circle, getting bounced around from a chaplain’s office to a family service center to a substance abuse counselor, but nobody knew what to do with them, Kennedy said.
On occasion, servicemembers will find themselves in trouble because of gambling.
According to Franklin, Trimeridian experts in recent years have testified at 19 courts-martial proceedings in which the military discharged members for gambling-related financial problems but offered no treatment.
Gambling recovery programs get about one-tenth of one percent of the billions of dollars the government spends on other disorders like alcoholism, drug abuse and schizophrenia, said Franklin.
In January, Kennedy’s staff opened Okinawa’s first compulsive gambling service — one of only two formal gambling treatment programs in the military. The other is at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
“Every time we make announcements of our services, we get overwhelmed with a flood of calls,” said Marine Staff Sgt. Daniel Poole, a counselor at the SARD.
Before offering the gambling treatment service, Poole said, the SARD had been getting many calls about the problem, so he requested to go to a three-day training program Franklin gave in Arizona last year.
After returning to Okinawa to provide supervised gambling counseling, Poole said the workload became too much. Not even the addition of a second gambling counselor met the need.
Poole’s office requested that Marine Corps Community Services on Okinawa fund a seminar and bring Franklin to Okinawa to offer local training. MCCS complied.
It was only fitting that MCCS foot the bill for such training, said Franklin, because the current move in the civilian world is to use revenues from gambling to fund gambling treatment programs.
MCCS clubs on Okinawa contain hundreds of slot machines and generate millions of dollars of revenues for Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs each year, officials have said.
The 30-hour program fulfilled the requirements for level 1 gambling specific clinical education, said Franklin. The attendees need another 100 hours of supervised counseling experience to qualify as national certified gambling counselors.
Some seminar students, noted Franklin, are so enthusiastic about the training that they already have registered for level 2 advanced training at a National Counsel on Problem Gambling conference in the States later this year.
The intent of having the seminar was to get all the SARD counselors on Okinawa certified to provide gambling treatment, said Kennedy.
“We had an overwhelming response,” she added, noting that representatives from Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps bases from Okinawa, Japan and South Korea attended.
Poole said he heard many attendees say they were grateful for the training because they hadn’t known what to do with all the people asking for help with gambling problems.
Okinawa’s SARD office is bracing itself for a “huge influx” of customers in the coming months, Poole said, as advertisements of their services increase.
The American Forces Network is to begin broadcasting more television and radio spots, and MCCS has agreed to hang posters in all its slot-machine rooms announcing the gambling treatment services, Poole explained.
For more information on group or individual therapy sessions or to join a newly formed Gamblers Anonymous group, call Okinawa’s Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Department at 645-3009 or 645-0356. Counselors are available anytime, day or night, and provide same-day evaluations.
Some past Stripes stories on gambling in the military:
Mar. 18, 2001:Slot machines pay MWR bills, but some worry about effects on servicemembers
June 7, 2001:Paper money, cards take jingle, jangle out of slot machines at base clubs
Aug. 22, 2001:DOD study: Slots on bases overseas not leading troops to financial hardship
Nov. 15, 2001:DOD study finds no significant harm from gambling at overseas bases