By: Natalie Bomke
They fought for our country and now they are fighting for care. FOX 32 has learned of serious neglect in the national policy for our veterans’ dental care.
In some cases, the Department of Veterans Affairs is allowed to pull out all of a veteran’s teeth, but not replace them, leaving the veteran toothless.
Charles Medalis served his country in Vietnam, but 50 years later, he’s taking on a new battle. Medalis suffered an extensive infection in his mouth back in 2015.
Doctors from the Department of Veterans Affairs performed surgery and had to pull out all off his teeth.
“So they called me in there, and they ripped 23 teeth out at once,” Medalis said.
The surgery fixed the infection, but Medalis was left toothless. He then asked for dentures, but was told he didn’t qualify for dental care from the VA.
“It changes your whole life, you can’t eat right, you can’t look right, and people don’t understand what you say as much,” Medalis said.
He was left looking for answers, and then the group “Smiles for Veterans” stepped in.
“If it had not been for our program, Smiles for Veterans, providing Charles with that full set of dentures, he would have been toothless for 3 years,” said Patricia DeVore.
DeVore is the founder of Smiles for Veterans — a program developed by VFW Auxiliary Post 74-52 in Montgomery, Illinois.
In three years, the non-profit has funded dental care for nearly 100 veterans who don’t qualify for it through the VA.
“Most are Vietnam-era veterans, they were subjected to Agent Orange, which everybody knows that poison stays in their systems forever, and one of the places that it does first show its ugly head is on the mouth, their teeth,” DeVore said.
In the fine print, seven categories of veterans are eligible for VA dental care including former POW’s, homeless veterans and veterans deemed 100 percent disabled by the VA.
Medalis fell into the latter category earlier this year, and received dental implants from the VA.
“They should replace your teeth, they should make you whole again, under any conditions,” he said.
“There’s a cost to it, but there’s also a cost to not doing it, that leads to much more expensive health problems among our veterans, so healthy veterans ultimately save dollars in the long run for the VA,” said Congressman Randy Hultgren.
“Vets gave this country a shot at losing their life, and anybody who does that should be re-considered and given benefits,” Medalis said.
The Department of Veterans Affairs told FOX 32 that, “when veterans do not meet VA dental eligibility criteria, we try to work with agency partners to help ensure they receive the dental care they need.”
However, the veterans we spoke with indicated it was up to them to fund the cost of dentures or partials.
Seven Illinois congressmen and women are co-sponsors of legislation that would provide dental care to all veterans.
Smiles for Veterans is asking you to contact your member of congress and urge them to become a co-sponsor.