Bill Introduced to Expand Treatment for Eating Disorders in Military

October 26, 2019, 11:32 AM HST (Updated October 26, 2019, 11:34 AM)
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Credit: U.S. Army.

A new bipartisan bill has been introduced to improve access to eating disorder treatment for active duty service members and veterans. The legislation would expand  eating disorder treatment options for thousands of Hawai‘i residents.

Called the Supporting Eating Disorders Recovery Through Vital Expansion (SERVE) Act, the proposed bill would expand treatment for eating disorders under TRICARE—a healthcare program for service members—and help provide training and resources to diagnose and treat incidences of eating disorders.

Cited in a news release from Sen. Hirono’s office—who helped introduce the bill—studies indicate that 16% of female service members and 20% of female adolescent dependents of service members are at risk of suicide. The release also stated that eating disorders are second only to substance abuse disorders and have the second highest rate of mortality among mental illnesses.

Women in the military are particularly vulnerable to developing eating disorders, studies show. According to the National Eating Disorders Association, a survey of 3,000 women in the military found that more than 60% of respondents have an eating disorder. In the Marine Corps alone, 98% meet the same criteria.

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Though eating disorders affect both men and women in the military, women who are service members are six times more likely to suffer from bulimia nervosa than those in the general population, according to studies cited by the Center for Discovery.

The SERVE Act would help address these staggering numbers by providing eating disorder treatment for service member beneficiaries under TRICARE. It would also classify eating disorders as a health condition requiring treatment and ensure access to treatment facilities for all service members. In addition, commanders and other leadership personnel would be required to take assessment trainings to learn the signs and symptoms of mental illnesses like eating disorders.

The bill was introduced by Senator Mazie Hirono, a ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, and Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D–N.H.), Martha McSally (R–Arizona) and Shelley Moore Capito (R–W.V.).

“As a state with a large number of active duty service members, military families and veterans, this important legislation would expand much needed access to eating disorder treatment for thousands of Hawai‘i residents,” Sen. Hirono said. “I’m proud to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to expand access to much needed mental health treatment for a community that sacrifices for our country every single day.”

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