Veteran Leonard Ray struggled to find dental care. He is a cancer survivor who had to undergo intense radiation and chemotherapy at his local VA. While the treatments eradicated his cancer, they also deteriorated the enamel on his teeth and left his mouth in bad shape.
Similar to private insurance providers, only certain Veterans can get dental benefits through VA. Ray is among the 85% of Veterans enrolled in VA health care who do not qualify for VA dental care. Most Veterans can afford their own dental care but about 1.3 million face financial hardships that make it difficult to cover the costs. Ray was one of those Veterans.
“I called everyone. I could not get no help,” said Ray. “My teeth were getting worse and worse.”
Dental care is critical to a Veteran’s whole health, which is why VA’s Center for Care and Payment Innovation launched the VETSmile pilot program in July 2021.
Program connects Veterans through collaborations
The program simplifies the health care journey for VA enrolled Veterans, connecting them to local dentists who provide dental services at a reduced cost (or even free, depending on payment resources available in each state).
This is accomplished through collaborations between local dentists and VA medical facilities or through direct outreach to Veterans who qualify for the program.
“I was referred by Brooklyn VA to NYU Dentistry,” said Ray. “My dentists here at NYU say they’re going to be doing a lot of restoring of my teeth. I know it’s going to be perfect. It’s going to be great.”
In the six months since VETSmile’s launch, collaborations for dental partners at 13 sites have helped put more than 960 Veterans in the dentist chair. And these providers have completed more than 3,200 dental procedures.
“I am so grateful Brooklyn VA found NYU Dentistry because a lot of people are going to be very happy with the outcome,” Ray said about the collaboration between the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System and NYU Dentistry.
Number of providers expected to increase over next six months
For Veterans like Ray, access will continue to grow. The number of participating providers is expected to increase significantly over the next six months as the pilot program undergoes a rapid expansion. But none of this would be possible without community-based dentists and dental assistants eager to serve our nation’s Veterans.
“Community-based providers, as well as all dental providers, have a commitment to ensure the oral health and well-being of the patients we serve, especially those who have protected our nation,” said Chrystalla Orthodoxou, DDS, group practice director at NYU College of Dentistry. “As the daughter of a Vietnam Veteran, it is both an honor and a privilege to help improve the lives of those who have served and protected our country.”
In addition to the VA dentists and dental assistants who serve Veterans in VA facilities, we also want to acknowledge and give a special thanks to the community dentists and assistants collaborating with VA’s VETSmile pilot program to serve the smiles of Veterans nationwide.
Learn if you qualify for dental benefits
If you qualify for VA dental care benefits, you may be able to get some or all of your care through VA. Find out how here to get VA dental care or how to buy dental insurance if you don’t qualify: https://www.va.gov/health-care/about-va-health-benefits/dental-care/.