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No Insurance, No Problem: Dental Care Free for 6,000 Veterans and Counting

June 27, 2016Posted by Wendy Joan Biddlecombe

Randall Murray may have grown up drinking well water in rural Arkansas, but he didn’t have to worry about his damaged teeth during the 15 years he served in the U.S. Air Force. They had him covered.

But throughout the thirty years that followed, Murray, now 58, often lived for long stretches of time without insurance, which meant even longer periods of time without any dental care.

The truth is, out of the estimated 21 million veterans across the country, more than 1.2 million lack health insurance, and just 8.9 million are enrolled in Veterans Association health insurance programs. Because dental care is only provided for vets that are 100 percent disabled, many go without.

Fortunately, last year, Murray met a team from Aspen Dental, a national dental network who initially reached out to Murray in hopes that he could introduce the dentists to local veterans for an inaugural “day of service” that they wanted to plan for those who have served our country.

The company offered cleanings, denture fittings, extractions and other work to all of the veterans they could find.

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“I said, take care of the combat vets first,” Murray recalled. He received all the dental work he needed—10 crowns, worth about $16,000—for free. “I’m an older vet, and I never served in combat, though I did combat-related jobs. I’m one of the fortunate ones.”

Murray became just one of 4,000 veterans who received dental work for free last year during Aspen Dental’s Day of Service through the Healthy Mouth Mobile, a fully equipped dental office that traveled to underserved areas to offer free dental care to those who need it.

“Getting the dental work done gave me back my life,” Murray said. “It really has increased my confidence and self esteem with public speaking, and just sitting and talking with others. I’m not afraid to do that now.”

United States Army veteran Tony Stamper, right to left, shows his military recognitions to Karen Miller, Boone County commissioner, and Jim Farnsworth, chief of staff for Missouri Attorney General, on Saturday, June 27, 2015 at Aspen Dental in Columbia, Mo. More than 5,000 veterans nationwide signed up for free dental care for Aspen Dental’s day of service taking place in hundreds of Aspen Dental practices across 31 states. In partnership with Got Your 6, the day of service is one component of the Healthy Mouth Movement, a community-giving initiative launched by Aspen Dental in 2014 to deliver free dental care and oral health education to people in need. (Whitney Curtis/AP Images for Aspen Dental)

“I also know now that unhealthy teeth can cause physical problems,” Murray added.

On Saturday, veterans across the country became eligible for free dental care at the nearly 400 Aspen Dental offices across the country, where they were given cleanings, fitted for dentures, treated for pain, abscesses and infections, and even had teeth extracted.

This year, repeat volunteer Dr. Elliott Dudley, a dentist in Jackson, Tenn. and U.S. Marine veteran, said, “It’s important because they sacrificed everything, and sometimes they go without care. That’s how I look at it.”

Amy Roberts, a rep. For Aspen, said that the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs only provides dental benefits to service members who are 100 percent disabled, former prisoners of war, or who have a mouth injury from their military career.

United States Army veteran Tony Stamper, right, shows off his new dentures to office manager Alisa Petty on Saturday, June 27, 2015 at Aspen Dental in Columbia, Mo. More than 5,000 veterans nationwide signed up for free dental care for Aspen Dental’s day of service taking place in hundreds of Aspen Dental practices across 31 states. In partnership with Got Your 6, the day of service is one component of the Healthy Mouth Movement, a community-giving initiative launched by Aspen Dental in 2014 to deliver free dental care and oral health education to people in need. (Whitney Curtis/AP Images for Aspen Dental)

“Nobody really saves up for a dental emergency, and the cost is a barrier for some folks,” Roberts said. “There is a lack of insurance, time, their car needs fixing…a lot of the time dental work is not seen as necessary, but it is so necessary for overall health.”

Aspen Dental, Roberts continued, wants to “empower veterans with a healthy mouth” so they can do the next things in life,” whether that be walking their daughter down the aisle or having the confidence to go on job interviews.”

This year, their goal was to surpass last year’s numbers and serve approximately 5,000 veterans by partnering with veteran nonprofit group Got Your 6 to help spread the word.

They surpassed that number with over 6,000 veterans were served.

“It’s hard to realize how important a smile is for a veteran who has returned home,” said Bill Rausch, executive director of Got Your 6. “Their oral health can be key in helping them realize their ability to continue to serve in their communities.”

The National Day of Service was just one part of the Healthy Mouth Movement, which will begin again in Philadelphia on September 7th and continue through November.

Veterans looking to find out where to get dental care next should click here.

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