With military bases throughout Nevada and some 42,770 veterans living in the state, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has opened its second in-patient gambling addiction recovery center.
This one will be in Las Vegas. VA officials say the Las Vegas VA Residential Recovery and Renewal Center (LV3) will host 30- and 45-day programs for gambling and substance abuse treatment.
The facility is the second of its kind in nearly 50 years at the VA. The department’s first gambling addiction center opened at the VA Medical Center in Brecksville, Ohio in 1972.
Now part of the Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, it was the sole treatment center for gambling addition catering to veterans. The center draws more than 100 veterans annually for treatment.
“There is definitely a great need for this here in Las Vegas,” said Roxanne Untal, the facility’s program manager. “Gambling and substance abuse already exist here, so it’s important that we are responsive to what problems arise for our veterans.”
Untal said the goal is to provide residential care for veterans when more intensive care is needed than what they would receive in outpatient treatment.
But when the intense treatment is done, the center offers wrap-around services going forward.
"As soon as our veterans are done with treatment, we don't wash our hands of them," she said, "What we do is we connect them to our outpatient leg because it is really important that the recovery be local."
Tim Jobin is the chief of behavioral health at the center. He said one of the reasons that members of the military can be more likely to become addicted is because of their combat experience.
"Then you come back to civilian life and it is not anywhere near as exciting and the brain craves that," he said, "And a lot of these games are really set up to trigger those portions of our brain that provide that serotonin, that provide that excitement."
He also noted that many games, including online games like Candy Crush, are designed to get you addicted and keep you pushing the button.
Untal said that military members often go through a lot of stress and pain and some turn to gambling and other addictive behaviors to cope with that stress and numb the pain.
The facility has 20 beds, including a separate wing with five beds for women, and will focus on individual treatment plans using a “whole health approach” geared to emotional, physical and mental healing.
Jobin said this facility fills a gap in our mental health care.
"Before we always treated gambling on an outpatient basis, but we were really missing a residential treatment program in our continuum of care," he said.
Las Vegas isn't the only place in the state that veterans have chosen to live. Many have sought out the open, quiet spaces of rural Nevada.
Denise Quirk is the executive director at the Reno Problem Gambling Center. Besides helping people in Reno, her center works with people in rural parts of the state.
She said there is anecdotal evidence that more people gamble in rural areas because there are fewer recreational options than in urban areas.
"Although the Veterans administration is pushing telehealth, which is where we talk to people by a Skype kind of service, a lot of people don't have access to care in that way and it's not always well known," she said, "Some of the in-home therapies require a good internet signal or a device with a camera and those can be barriers for some patients."
Quirk said people come to her center when they find themselves lying to themselves about their gambling habits or when they wonder why they're unable to stick to the limits they put on themselves.
She also said the family members will often come in to ask for help about a loved one they feel is out of control.
Veterans interested in the program need a referral from their primary care provider or they can take advantage of the same-day mental health service.
Exactly how many veterans in Nevada meet the criteria for gambling addiction is unknown. But with 164,100 slot machines in the state, advocates claim there are plenty of opportunities to gamble.
A study conducted by the VA in the New England region funded by the Massachusetts Gaming Commission found that among a group of 260 veterans, a third had gambled in the last year and 6 percent screened positive for a gambling disorder.
Signs of Gambling Problem
-Gambling more money or for longer than planned
-Neglected school, work or family to gamble
-Borrowing money and lying about gambling activities
-Using gambling to cope with stress or loss
-Unsuccessful attempts to reduce or stop gambling
-Feelings of hopelessness, depression or suicide
VA Crisis Line - 1-800-273-TALK
When the Fun Stops - Nevada Council on Problem Gambling - 1-800-522-4700
Dr. Roxanne Untal, program manager, Las Vegas VA Residential Recovery and Renewal Center; Tim Jobin, chief of behavioral health, Las Vegas VA Residential Recovery and Renewal Center; Denise Quirk, executive director, Reno Problem Gambling Center