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Millions of Americans are without dental insurance, and a significant portion of them are veterans. While certain departments of the government, clinics and organizations are working to expand and provide dental care to returned soldiers, there are still many limitations and barriers to coverage.
Sen. Bernie Sanders is the Senate Veterans' Affair Committee chairman, and one of his most recent missions has been to focus on dental care for veterans. According to Sanders, 6.5 million veterans receive health care from the Veterans Affairs Department, but fewer than half have access to the VA's dental care, the Navy Times reported.
As it stands, VA-provided care mainly focuses on military service-related issues, with VA citing many factors that affect eligibility for dental care. Those that have a service-related treatable dental disability or were once a prisoner of war are eligible for any and all necessary dental care. The same basically holds true for veterans who have received the most severe service-related disabilities or are determined by clinicians to be unemployable due to service-related conditions.
However, as veterans' situations become more complicated, so does the available type of care. For example, veterans of the Persian Gulf War who have spent at least 90 days on active duty can receive one-time dental care only if they apply for it within 180 days of discharge or release. A dental issue that is related to and exacerbates service-connected medical conditions will result in care only for the dental problem, and only if it has been determined by VA clinicians to have a detrimental effect on the medical condition.
Reduced vs. free
Come Jan. 1, 2014 dental insurance will be available to veterans, according to VA. The coverage will provide veterans the opportunity to purchase dental insurance through Dental Dental and MetLife at a reduced cost, according to the VA. The Army Times reported that, under the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the VAeterans Afairs Department, some 8 million veterans and 400,000 civilians would receive dental care for a three-year pilot program. Yet, Sanders and veterans-oriented organizations supporting Sanders' mission, such as The American Legion, do not believe that reduced coverage is enough.
A leading concern
Government agencies and volunteer organizations have coordinated to provide dental care to those veterans who are often the most in need of care - the homeless. Last year, San Diego veterans were treated to dental care by a host of dentists, reported The Los Angeles Times. The problem can be dire, as a lack of care can result not only in other health problems, but also more difficulty in securing employment.
"Many of them have not had dental exams for 15 years or more and their mouths are full of abscesses and pus," Shay Razmi, D.D.S, head of the dental department at Navy Medical Center San Diego, told The Los Angeles Times. "Their conditions are often very complicated, and they have been in pain for a long time."
According to the Homeless Veterans Dental Program, dental care is one of three leading unmet needs for homeless veterans. The other two are permanent housing and childcare.
Part of a whole
The dental woes faced by veterans are only part of a larger nationwide oral health care crisis, with some 85 million Americans having no form of dental insurance. Veterans and other Americans without dental insurance should consider purchasing discount dental plans, which can help them gain access to the care they need - from regular cleanings to root canals - at an affordable price.
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