94% of veterans at VA don't qualify for dental care. VA opposes Congress changing that.

Abbie Bennett
July 23, 2020 - 10:49 am

Photo by Seaman Jairus Bailey

About 534,000 veterans qualify for dental care from the Department of Veterans Affairs. But that leaves about 94 percent of veterans without dental care from VA. 

Members of Congress want to change that, but VA leaders objected, arguing the department doesn't have the capacity, staff or money to provide more dental care, which they said could cost tens of billions.

VA officials argued they don't have the resources to provide dental care to more veterans. 

Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., introduced a bill, H.R. 96, which would require VA to furnish dental care to eligible veterans like any other medical care. 

 "94 percent of veterans enrolled at VA ... don't have dental care at VA, leaving many veterans with no dental care at all," or forced to pay for private dental care, Brownley said during a legislative hearing of the House Veterans Affairs Committee July 23. 

A previous VA report also showed that providing dental services "could result in a reduction of overall medical costs," Brownley said. That report noted that neglecting oral health can contribute to health problems, cardiovascular diseases, some cancers and other health concerns. 

"We must treat veterans' dental care just as integrally to their overall health" as standard health care, Brownley said. 

But VA's written testimony submitted to Congress said VA opposed expanding dental care to more veterans. 

"I'm puzzled why VA is not looking at this holistically," Brownley said, considering VA's internal report showed possible overall cost savings on veteran medical care if oral health needs were also addressed. "VA has a report that actually says the VA can save money when you look at the whole health of a veteran." 

Dr. Maria Llorente, Assistant Deputy Undersecretary for Health for Patient Care Services at the Veterans Health Administration, said that while Brownley's proposed bill was "in keeping with our desire and mission to serve the needs of our veterans ... in a nutshell, VA does not have the resources to be able to expand dental care services," even just by priority group. 

Llorente said VA does not have the capacity or money to provide dental care for more veterans. 

"Most of our clinics nationwide are already at or near capacity," Llorente told lawmakers Thursday. Expanding dental care would require more clinical staff, space and costly equipment. 

Brownley asked if VA would be willing to seek feedback from the "entire veteran population" on whether veterans would like VA to expand dental care. 

"VA is always willing to accept feedback, information and opinion from our veterans," Llorente said.

To find out if you are eligible for VA dental care, contact your local VA

Other bills discussed by the committee Thursday included:

  • The Brian Tally VA Employment Transparency Act would allow any veteran or family member who has filed a claim against VA for damage, injury or death to be entitled to receive, within 30 days, a notice from VA about legal council, the employment status of anyone involved in the claim (including whether they work for VA or are a contractor) and the statute of limitations for the claim.
  • H.R. 6039, which would require VA to take over the Mare Island Naval Cemetery from the city of Vallejo, Calif.;
  • The Forgotten Vietnam Veterans Act, which would extend VA benefits to thousands of "forgotten" Vietnam veterans by changing the cutoff dates for the war to match the Pentagon's;
  • The Native American PACT Act, which would prohibit VA from collecting healthcare copays from a veteran who is also a member of a Native American tribe;
  • The Department of Veterans Affairs Tribal Advisory Committee Act, which would establish such a committee to advise VA on matters related to tribes and Native veterans;
  • H.R. 3582, which would expand the scope of the Advisory Committee on Minority Veterans to include LGBTQ veterans;
  • The Access to Contraception Expansion for Veterans Act, which would require VA to fill prescriptions for a year's supply of contraceptive pills or other forms of contraception;
  • The Honoring All Veterans Act, which would alter the VA motto to be more inclusive;
  • The VA FOIA Reform Act, which would require the department to reduce its backlog of Freedom of Information Act requests by 75 percent within three years and make frequently requested information publicly available;
  • The Veterans Economic Recovery Act, which would require VA to carry out a retraining assistance program for unemployed veterans;
  • The Accelerating Veterans Recovery Outdoors Act, which would require VA to establish a task force on the use of public lands to provide medical treatment and therapy to veterans;
  • H.R. 7287, which would clarify license requirements for contracted medical professionals to perform disability exams for VA;
  • The VA Mission Telehealth Clarification Act, which would allow health professional trainees to provide treatment via telemedicine;
  • The Protecting Moms Who Served Act, aimed at improving maternity care coordination provided by VA;
  • The Veterans Benefits Fairness and Transparency Act, which would require VA to publish its disability benefits questionnaire form in a central location on the VA website;
  • H.R. 7445, which would expand VA home loan eligibility to some members of the Reserve;
  • The Burial Equity for Guards and Reserves Act, which would extend VA burial benefits to those service members;
  • A draft bill that would extend certain employment and reemployment rights to certain activated National Guard members;
  • A draft bill to clarify the rights of service members and their employment and reemployment rights. 

Trump signs bill to expand VA dental care coverage for veterans

Reach Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett.

Want to get more connected to the stories and resources Connecting Vets has to offer? Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter.