Veterans Smile Program is Helping Veterans Get Free Dental Work
While many veterans served our country honorably, they suffer from decayed, painful teeth and lack access to dental insurance and care.
Now, a bill is being introduced to provide care from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to veterans in order to solve this problem, but it may be an uphill battle
December 16, 1975, and Jan. 14, 1980, were the dates of entry and exit. Charles Florin is proud to have served his country. He was not, however, proud of his smile.
"I've never been able to afford the insurance," Florin said. “So, therefore, my teeth rotted off, broke out, all kinds of problems there."
Florin, a Navy veteran, does receive health care from the VA, but dental care is only provided to veterans with specific disabilities or ex-prisoners of war. Veterans enrolled in the VA's healthcare program only qualify for comprehensive dental coverage in 15% of cases.
"Well, I think it ought to be for everybody that served our country," Florin said.
Judith Bell, an Army veteran, is in agreement. She put off getting replacement dentures and removing her lower teeth for years because she wasn't eligible.
Bell said that she is so proud to be a veteran of the U.S. Army. "I thought that if they’re servicing veterans, you would think that the whole body would be taken care of."
Legislation introduced recently in Washington D.C. would expand dental care to all VA patients. The Veterans Smile Program, a nonprofit in Chicago which funds dental care for veterans, supports the program.
"We have veterans pulling their own teeth out with pliers across the country because they simply cannot afford the dental care themselves," said Patricia DeVore, President of Veterans Smile Program.
The bill has received a much lower level of support than is required to pass and similar bills have failed in the past. According to an official from the VA, it was not possible to accomplish this last year.
“What does this say about our country that we cannot take better care of our veterans?” asked Veterans Health Administration Deputy Under Secretary for Patient Care Services, Dr. Maria Llorente, at a 2020 hearing.
Florin and Bell have yet another reason to be proud after participating in DeVore's Veterans Smiles Program. "Means the world to me," Florin said.
There is a VA Dental Insurance Program (VADIP) that is available to veterans who do not meet these criteria.
The Healthcare program for civilians under the VA (CHAMPVA) gives discounted insurance options to veterans and beneficiaries for dental and medical coverage provided by Delta Dental or MetLife.