Regional Dentist Champions Program addressing long-term Veterans needs
Less than 10 percent of veterans receive dental care through the Veterans Administration, and those who qualify must have a 100% disability rate, leaving many veterans without access to dental care.
However, a Slaton-based dentist has partnered with a national program to provide comprehensive dental care to low-income veterans in the Lubbock area.
Mary Glasheen is a military wife, and before moving to Lubbock, her husband was stationed in Virginia, where she did a one-year dental residency at the VA, she said.
âThere were difficult circumstances, where you wish you could offer more care and services, but that’s not what you are allowed to do,â Glasheen said. âI don’t know who sets the rules, but you have to follow them. And I realized there were huge gaps in care.
Glasheen is a practicing dentist, as well as the chair of public health and outreach for the South Plains Dental Society.
The challenges veterans can face in receiving dental care have not gone unnoticed; in 2008, Theresa Cheng founded Everyone For Veterans in Seattle, which is now a nonprofit organization that provides full and free dental care to veterans, spouses and caregivers by partnering with dentists to volunteer their time and their services.
All services are pro bono, Cheng said. Some dentists will have openings in their schedules to see veterans, while others may stay an extra hour in the office for volunteer work. It is not a major burden on dentists and it makes a huge difference in the lives of veterans.
Many veterans who received dental treatment under the Everyone for Veterans program reached out to Cheng, she said, sharing stories and feelings. One veteran was able to lose weight because his procedure allowed him to eat vegetables again, while others could not have afforded their own procedures.
âIt’s amazing that these things aren’t too much work for us dentists,â Cheng said. “I know this is volunteer work and it would have cost him thousands of dollars and (it was) not achievable, but for us, providing the work, it doesn’t seem like a lot (more) of work than We do. But the impact on their lives is just amazing.
Glasheen knew she wanted to use her profession to help veterans in any way she could, she said. She moved to the Lubbock area a year ago and started looking for ways to make a difference. The Everyone for Veterans program stood out for her, so she signed up and started encouraging other professionals to get involved.
âSo it’s like a network of dentists who are interested in providing pro bono care to low-income veterans in your area,â Glasheen said. âYou know, I as a dentist from Lubbock signed up. I have colleagues who have signed up and I really want to use my platform as Community Outreach Coordinator, South Plains District Dental Society Public Health President to promote the program and connect dentists.
Glasheen got down to business, starting with colleagues who were in the military or whose family had served. She also reached out to Norman Bearden, the Panhandle and Southern Plains Veteran Resource Coordinator for Workforce Solutions, to help spread the word about fighting veterans in the Lubbock area.
Bearden served 23 years as a submariner in the Navy. He needed dental treatment, but it was not feasible while on active duty.
âMy dental problem was actually considered a medical problem for various factors; It’s been a while since I lived this part, âhe said. “But they were actually going to put me in the Port Smith Naval Hospital and break my jaw and push her forward.”
He could have had the procedure performed on a brief command – during which he would be stationed in the same location for three years – but he decided not to. He waited until his retirement to have braces.
âSo I waited until I retired after 23 years and finally decided that the time was right and that I was going to do it,â Bearden said. “And it made such a difference.”
Like many Lubbock area veterans, Bearden’s dental work had an extremely positive effect on him psychologically, he said. He was no longer embarrassed by his teeth, which can help many veterans regain self-confidence, from job opportunities to personal relationships.
Under the Everyone for Veterans program and the Glasheen Dental Veteran initiative, each dentist will add a veteran’s case to their caseload. Adding a patient to a dentist’s private practice is a very achievable goal, said Glasheen. This allows dentists and veterans to build relationships, veterans can maintain their oral health and receive the treatment they need.
Veterans do not get the dental care they need because many do not qualify for VA dental care. The needs of these veterans range from basic cleanings and maintenance, to fillings and extractions, to dentures and implants, she said. If left untreated, ailments like toothaches, infections and missing teeth can have a serious impact on a Veteran’s health, confidence and job. Everyone for Veterans aims to help Veterans in any way they can.
âI think that’s going to keep them functional and healthy, where you can eat a healthy, varied diet, and you are able to chew food comfortably and function well,â Glasheen said, âto help l ‘Jobs. “If you have confidence in your smile, can get through job interviews and have a solid job, that does wonders for veterans too. And even just take a little financial burden off their plate as you go. they are trying to get back into civilian life, which would also be an objective.
Everyone for Veterans is one of many dental and oral health programs designed to support Veterans.
Hill & Ioppolo Oral & Dental Implant Surgery of Lubbock has provided free dental care to veterans for years through the Smiles for Soldiers program. Through the program, veterans or members of the military benefit from a free procedure of restoring the complete arch, according to the records of Avalanche-Journal.
Many dental programs aimed at helping veterans are one-time urgent care, Cheng said. Particularly around Veterans Day, many dental offices will be offering free or discounted services to veterans and providing whatever care they can during this visit.
This can be great for veterans who need a problem, but it can leave others with dental disease that cannot be treated in one visit, which is why Everyone For Veterans is putting the emphasis on comprehensive care and integrates veterans into a dentist’s practice.
âWe think that for this population of veterans, who have, I think, done beyond their service, being in combat zones, we want to do this comprehensive care because one thing they do not do not have to worry about is dental care, âsaid Cheng. âSo that’s what we insist on with dentists participating in the program.
Publicizing the Glasheen initiative is a top priority. More than 20 dentists in the Lubbock area have already registered, Bearden said. Now the focus is on reaching veterans and getting them to apply.
Bearden has relied primarily on social media and media coverage, he said. But he hopes that next year, as more dentists and veterans get involved, he can make publicity efforts to help spread the information.
âBut if every dentist, if everyone, adopted a veteran to care for – and I have no idea what the answer is going to be,â he said. âHopefully we would have more veterans applying because obviously not every veteran will be approved, but it would be nice to have the right mix between the number of veterans and the number of suppliers so that any supplier is not overwhelmed with more than he can bear.
Bearden is also working with the Amarillo VA healthcare center to provide veterans with the resources they might need, like transportation or internet access for apps, he said.
Everyone’s application process for Veterans is straightforward, and eligible Veterans only need to meet three requirements: they must have been deployed to a combat zone, need financial assistance, and not receive dental benefits. from the VA, according to Everyone’s Application for Veterans website.
Bearden, Workforce Solutions and Amarillo VA will provide whatever assistance a veteran might need, from computers to applications to helping get to dentist appointments, he said. They will do anything to bring veterans into this service.
There is a huge need for dental care for veterans, Glasheen said. While she can’t solve every problem from day one, she takes a step-by-step approach to giving back to the men and women who have served the country.
Getting the word out to veterans is important, but they will not be able to receive care if dentists do not register to volunteer. Currently, statewide veterans are waiting for dentists in Spring, Waco, San Antonio, Houston, New Braunfels, Livingston, Arlington, Nolanville, Pflugerville, Fort Worth, Commerce, Scurry, Killeen, Montgomery, Brenham and Grapeland, according to a list provided by Cheng.
However, dentists are needed in all states across the country. Those who wish to volunteer their time and expertise can find information here.
“I feel like at the end of the day we relied on these men and women, who are, you know, only one percent of the population, though, to carry this huge burden.” , Glasheen said. âThey keep us safe, beyond what we could really understand or understand as civilians. And the sacrifice they make, of course to themselves, but also to their families – it’s really huge, and I’ve always felt an extreme motivation to try and use my skills to give back.
If you are a dental professional who would like to make a commitment to providing care to a veteran in the next year, please contact Mary Glasheen, DDS, President of Public Health and Outreach for the South Plains Dental Society at 281.750.2439 or glasheendental @ gmail.com.
If you are a Veteran interested in our program, please contact Norm Bearden, Panhandle and South Plains Veterans Resource Coordinator, at 806.282.1146