Update: Legislation Seeks to Improve Treating Eating Disorders among the Military

U.S. Senators on the Armed Services Committee introduced bipartisan legislation on October 23 designed to expand access to eating disorder treatment for service members, their families, and retirees as well.

The proposed bill, the “Supporting Eating Disorders Recovery Through Vital Expansion Act,” or SERVE, is similar to one introduced last May by combat veterans and House members Brian Mast (R-Florida), and Seth Moulton (D-Massachusetts). SERVE would require military leaders to be trained to recognize the signs of eating disorders in service members and to expand coverage for care.

The legislation would also require Tricare, the military medical insurance plan, to cover inpatient or residential services, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient or outpatient services at facilities certified by the military health program that can demonstrate their treatment programs are effective. The bill also seeks to provide services to military family members “without regard to the age of the dependent.”
While eating disorder diagnoses among active duty personnel remain relatively rare, they do carry grave consequences for those who struggle with eating disorders. Between 2013 and 2017, 1,788 active duty service members were diagnosed with an eating disorder–AN, BN,  or an unspecified eating disorder , according to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch.

The rate among military women was 11 times the rate among men. At highest risk for developing eating disorders were white women aged 20 to 24 (Medical Surveillance Monthly Report, June 2018). Female Marines had the highest rate of diagnosed eating disorders, nearly twice that of the other military services, or 20.4 per 10,000 persons. The Army was second, at 11.9 per 10,000, the Navy third, with 11.4 per 10,000, followed by the Air Force, with 10.4 per 10,000.

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