Dental care is just as important for our veterans as it is for the rest of us. Unfortunately, those who have served may face additional oral health challenges.
Veteran Oral Health Challenges
America’s veterans face a number of challenges after their service is complete: adjusting to their experience; reintegrating back into normal life, including with their families; finding work; managing their finances; and managing their health. These are just a few issues facing returning service members. Many veterans suffered traumatic experiences, both physical and mental, during their service and struggle with adjusting to their former lives. The recent end of the war in Afghanistan provides a reminder of the numerous sacrifices of our military members, along with the trials that many face when they come home.
One common concern for veterans is oral health. For too many veterans, getting help with dental care can be complex, confusing and stressful. Most of us assume that the Veterans Administration (VA) addresses many, if not the majority, of the oral health needs of our veterans, but this is not the case. To qualify, veterans have to meet specific eligibility criteria, which do not apply to the majority of veterans, many of whom are older, often underserved, and suffer from co-morbidities negatively impacted by poor oral health.
Dental Care Help for Veterans
Ineligible veterans have the option of obtaining dental insurance at reduced cost through the VA Dental Insurance Program (VADIP). While the program is comprehensive, a veteran needs to be enrolled in the VA health program or be a CHAMPVA beneficiary. Many veterans may find that, even at reduced cost, the program is not affordable.
This leaves too many veterans without access to needed care. Increasingly, community organizations and individual dentists are stepping up to help. One of these is the Dental Lifeline Network (DLN), which has supported over 165,000 individuals in its 45 years. A core initiative of the DLN is Will You See One Vet (WYSOV), a volunteer program that targets veterans who are primarily elderly, have physical and/or mental disabilities, or require lifesaving care. WYSOV connects veterans with dentists and dental laboratories willing to donate their services, primarily through the Donated Dental Services (DDS) program.
A patient becomes eligible for the WYSOV program by filling out an application and undergoing a screening by a DDS Coordinator. Qualified patients are then matched with a volunteer dentist who sees the patient in their office, in partnership with a dental laboratory who has also agreed to donate its services. The Coordinator is critical to the success of the WYSOV program. They determine patient eligibility, ensure that patients arrive for appointments (coordinating transportation as needed), coach patients, and act as liaisons between patients and volunteer dentists, while arranging for assistance from dental laboratories and other specialists.
Delta Dental of Virginia is very proud to support the Dental Lifeline Network and its Will You See One Vet initiative. The program is consistent with our more than 50-year mission to create healthy smiles for all Virginians. With strong support from our leaders, employees and the Delta Dental of Virginia Foundation, we support numerous community efforts to improve both oral and overall health. Through its Smile Ambassadors Corporate Social Responsibility team, Delta Dental of Virginia recently donated $5,000 to DLN to help pay for a DDS Coordinator to match needy veterans with volunteer dentists.