By Larry Nazimek
On May 4, 2022, Mark Weiman and I had a teleconference with Bailee Bannon and Harrison Segall. 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.
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 all available sources will be welcome.
Unfortunately, there is no money to pay for our treatment, so this is not a free program. I pointed out that VA healthcare is not free for all vets, since many of us must make copays. Of course, $50 (the standard copay for a specialist appt.) is very low compared to what one must pay for a dental visit, even if he has dental insurance. Their goal is to get all veterans into dental chairs, but without money to pay for treatment, this goal may not be attainable.
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.