FELLOWS IN ACTION HEROES
EVERYONE FOR VETERANS (E4V)
After hearing about a local member of the U.S. armed forces who had been injured while serving in Iraq, Dr. Theresa Cheng decided to donate her time to provide dental care to the family members of injured veterans. That was in 2008.
She had assumed that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provided care to the veterans. However, after she learned that most veterans are not eligible for dental benefits, she included the veterans themselves in her outreach program. Our combat veterans return from war and face a long battle at home.
Each year, she has closed her office for a day and scheduled one-hour appointments for each of the low-income war veterans. These veterans often traveled long distances to have their urgent needs addressed. But she worried about their other, impending dental problems. She knew that once they had left her office, they would have to wait for some other opportunity to address other issues, and likely would never have the chance to be fully restored. Our war veterans can have a long and difficult road back home and we can all help in contributing dental health to their lives.
Thus, Dr. Cheng approached dentists with practices near to where the patients lived asking clinicians if they would consider continuing the veteran’s dental treatment. Most were happy to have the opportunity to give back – and to establish an avenue for the future, paid maintenance care. Some of the others who have participated in the program are Fellow-Elect Michael Kanellis who is a pediatric dentist and Dean of Clinics at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry, and who will become a Fellow of the ICD at the Atlanta meeting; Fellow David Houten of Kelso, WA; Fellow-Elect Mindy Richtsmeier of Des Moines, IA, who will be inducted in the ICD in Honolulu next year, was the first private practice dentist in Iowa to become involved and also serves on the Everyone for Veterans Board of Directors; Fellow Ted Baer of Tacoma, WA; Fellow David Hedgecoe of Fayetteville, NC; Dr. Martin Anderson of Washington state; Fellow Tim Hess of Auburn, WA; and Fellow Sarah Fraker of Seattle, WA.
Fellow Richard Williamson who is the ICD Regent from District 10 and a Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry has been very involved in the program from the start. He participates in the program and facilitates finding care for the veterans. Dr. Tim Michels is a general practitioner in Cedar Rapids, Iowa and was the second private practitioner from Iowa to join the program. It wasn’t long before there was a network of over a hundred dentists, specialists and labs, located, at first, mostly in Washington state. Everyone for Veterans (E4V) has now placed veterans in dental offices in Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, North Carolina, Michigan, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts and they are currently completing applications for veterans in New Jersey, Missouri and Iowa. As is evident from the partial listing of participating dentists above, many of the dentist volunteers are Fellows of the USA Section of the International College of Dentists.
Dr. Williamson says that they honor a veteran’s service by providing peace of mind regarding their dental care by:
- Finding a location that is easily accessible to the veteran so it is not a hardship to go to a dental appointment
- Providing the luxury of having appointments in a dental office so they don’t have to wait in long lines.
- Providing comprehensive dental treatment so the veteran is not spending a lifetime of begging from one urgent need to the next.
- Establishing the concept of sustainable factors of good home care and maintenance.
Buoyed by the positive interest and the power of the Internet, Dr. Cheng agreed to assist with requests from veterans in other states, too. The process was slow and challenging, but in February 2016 the Pierre Fauchard Academy endorsed this program and may be a great help in connecting visits to volunteer dentists across the nation. The program was then endorsed by the USA Section of the International College of Dentists in May of 2017.
Many states have wonderful programs or “stand down” events that provide veterans with access to care, but most such programs or events address only urgent needs. The veteran populace is massive, with varying access to dental care.
It is true that some patients want to have only their urgent needs addressed as their lives might still be in turmoil. They may be homeless or transient, or still dealing with drugs or alcohol, and generally not mindful of comprehensive dental health. Others are more stable but perhaps in a low-income situation, working at low wage or part-time jobs, going to school, or even retired. This group might not qualify for Medicaid because they “make too much.” The program tries to give these veterans not only comprehensive dental care but also peace of mind regarding their dental health. In some cases mainly preventive treatment is provided to help them avoid falling into disastrous dental conditions. The veterans are informed that after all active treatment is done, they will be expected to pay for maintenance care.
How the program works
After veterans fill out an application on the website, their low income status is verified, and their deployment history including the war or conflict area. Two phone interviews help set expectations. Waivers are signed, and then a local dentist is sought out to honor the veteran or a veteran’s family member.
The all-volunteer charity program illustrates the importance of dental health, as well as the healing power of the relationship between doctor and patient. The trust, honor and social aspects are powerful healing factors, just like the dental work. Many veterans claim to feel much better after their treatments, not just because they are able to eat vegetables again, but also because their experience helped restore their faith in humanity.
The dentists, too, have reported that they enjoy the opportunity to get to know our war heroes, and have found the experience to be deeply rewarding. It’s also an easy, convenient way for dentists to give back. They don’t have to go to a special location, block out a schedule or work with unfamiliar equipment and materials.
It is easy to join this effort. Just go to http://www.everyoneforveterans.org and click on “How You Can Help.” Add your information to five short fields and you’ll be notified via email when a qualified, low income war veteran in your area is in need of your assistance. You can accommodate the patient at your convenience and will be assigned just one per year unless you request otherwise. This is an easy way to honor these war heroes!
Visit http://www.everyoneforveterans.org for more information.