Military Families Experience Eating Disorders, Too


More than 30 million Americans are affected by eating disorders — a figure that includes thousands of service members and their families. In fact, military families might be at a higher risk for eating disorders than their civilian peers: Multiple deployments, post-traumatic stress, and military sexual trauma are all associated with a higher risk of eating disorders.

Knowing that service members and families are at greater risk of eating disorders, we would expect TRICARE to offer top notch coverage to treat these conditions. Frustratingly, that is not the case.

Treatment for eating disorders is typically not available at Military Treatment Facilities, so patients must be treated in the civilian network. However, TRICARE’s low reimbursement rates, a lack of providers in rural locations, and a shortage of facilities offering inpatient treatment for adults all make it difficult for TRICARE to contract with providers offering treatment for eating disorders.

A recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report highlights how difficult this process is for military families — and how seriously we should be concerned about military families’ ability to access care for eating disorders. According to the report, service members and families are able to seek care for eating disorders at only 166 facilities across the country, located in 32 states.

Worse yet, there are reasons to be concerned that even that low figure might be overstated. When they reviewed the GAO report, the Eating Disorders Coalition (EDC) found errors and duplication in the GAO’s list of facilities.

In fact, according to the EDC, TRICARE only covers a fraction of the providers available to care for those with eating disorders. Only 35% of the nation’s 365 eating disorder treatment facilities are authorized by TRICARE, and only 21% are in-network.

Military families deserve more.

The Defense Health Agency (DHA) denies that this is a problem, noting that in 2018-2019 they received no complaints about access to care for eating disorders. However, we know that families have limited ability to contact DHA. And we’re worried that the lack of covered providers means service members and families are going without care they desperately need.

We need to hear from you. If you or a family member have ever struggled to get appropriate treatment for an eating disorder, we want to hear from you. You can share your experience with us here. We won’t share it with anyone else without your permission, but we cannot affect the change our community needs unless we hear from you.

By: Eileen Huck, Government Relations Deputy Director