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Congress Wants to Address Eating Disorders in the Military

August 25, 2021 by Alexa Hornbeck
The mess hall at the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in Cherry Point, North Carolina. (Photo by Cpl. J. R. Heins II Marine Expeditionary Force)

Congress is looking to expand access to treatment for eating disorders among service members. 

The House and Senate versions of the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act both contain measures that would encourage — but not require — the Defense Department to cover residential treatment centers under Tricare for adults with eating disorders and train leaders to recognize the signs of such behaviors.

The House bill would require the Pentagon to report to Congress on the feasibility of including residential treatment facilities in coverage, as well as the cost, while the Senate bill encourages the DoD to ensure that all resources and facilities are available to treat beneficiaries regardless of age.

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When it comes to providing treatment to help combat eating disorders in the military, Tricare contractors currently offer 166 eating disorder facilities, with 40 facilities in the West, and 126 facilities in the East. 

However, current and retired service members have offered mixed views about the Tricare and military health system, and indicated that Tricare has failed to cover treatment for things like eating disorders, as they don’t typically meet the requirements for Tricare-authorized providers. 

According to a report from the Government Accountability Office, treatment for eating disorders for military personnel and family members is usually outsourced to other treatment sites because there is not enough staffing at the Pentagon to focus solely on eating disorders. 

Data from the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch also shows that between 2013 and 2017, there were 1,788 active-duty troops diagnosed with an eating disorder, and that rates among military women were 11 times that among men. 

The highest rate of diagnosed eating disorders occurred for females in the Marines, which were twice that of other military service members, followed by the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

There are also findings from the Eating Disorders Coalition, a group of associations, facilities and family members who advocate for eating disorder research, education, and legislation, that military members and their families have a higher prevalence rate of eating disorders than civilian populations, an estimate of 7-8% of all troops.

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