By Larry Nazimek
On May 4, 2022, Mark Weiman and I had a teleconference with members of VA’s VETSmile Pilot Program team. We have been the ones who have been nagging them about the program ever since it was announced, and since we have been working on veteran dental care for such a long time, we will be doing whatever we can to help with the implementation of this program. Since we are “boots on the ground” in the Chicago area, we are aware of some resources that they may not be aware of.
The program was first announced in the Federal Register in Dec., 2019, and signed into law by Pres. Trump in March, 2020. The way the program was announced, it would be a pilot program in 4 VISNs, one of which was VISN-12. Since then, the pilot has evolved with the landscape now expanding nationwide to meet the highest concentrations of unmet need.
The first location was NY/NJ, and it opened with much fanfare, and that’s where we first heard the name “VETSmile.”
What we learned is that the program, which came about through the Mission Act, is a 5 year (July 2021-2026) pilot program with a goal of getting into all 50 states. They hope to be operating in Chicago by the end of this year. Like everything else, the PANdemIC has slowed things. They want to focus on dental schools, but are also exploring additional dental care providers and sources as well.
VETSmile’s goal is to create links between VA and community-based dental care partners who can provide Veterans with dental services – many times at a reduced price. They stand firm in their belief that these new partnerships will help support many Veterans in finding a permanent dental home. It’s important to note VETSmile’s goal is not, nor can it legally be, to expand VA dental care to all Veterans. Only Congress has the authority to do that.
It must be emphasized that this is not substitute for our goal, which is to make the VA treat dental care like every other medical specialty. That is what we have been fighting for and for what we will continue to fight.
Article updated June 1, 2022