Should all vets get dental care? This one says, absolutely.

Matt Saintsing
November 16, 2018 - 4:05 pm

Jim Schultz/Record Searchlight-Redding

Cardiology, neurology, orthopedics and even oncology are available to veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Why, then, is dental care limited to a select few?

That question has motivated 68-year-old Air Force Veteran Larry Nazimek on a mission to expand dental care to the nearly 9.1 million veterans who receive care through the VA. 

“Some people think of dental care as cosmetic, but modern medical science says that’s not the case,” Nazimek, a former navigator and B-52 pilot tells Connecting Vets, stressing that in some cases, bad teeth can lead to an unhealthy heart.

Photo Courtesy of Larry Nazimek

Nazimek, with the help of the Coalition of Veterans Organizations in Chicago, is trying to shore up support for H.R. 4556, a bill that would require the VA to treat dental care like any other medical specialty. 

Currently, only veterans with a service-connected disability rating of 100 percent, those with a service-connected dental condition, former prisoners of war, and some homeless veterans are eligible for dental care, leaving the vast majority of veterans on their own.

Veterans can, however, purchase dental insurance through the VA, but Nazimek says it isn’t a favorable arrangement. “VA negotiated a deal, but those who have it don’t like it,” he adds. “It’s a good program for the insurance companies.” 

H.R. 4556 would jettison VA’s current restrictions, allowing any veteran enrolled in the VA system, to access in-house dental care. It would also give the agency five years to build up the capacity to provide more comprehensive dental care, like hiring dentists and building additional facilities. 

In the military, dental care is part of service member’s regular health screenings. So, if having healthy teeth and gums were important while in uniform, Nazimek says it should be a priority when treating veterans.  

Photo by Joseph Cress/Iowa City Press-Citizen-HawkCentral

But where it stands now the bill would require a different sponsor, since Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.)—the bills primary sponsor— is retiring after she finishes her term this year. 

Nazimek says he’s currently on the hunt for a new potential champion of the bill and looks forward to a strong reintroduction after the New Year. 

He encourages veterans to research the bill and add their support behind the measure. 

“We speak louder if we unite and speak with one voice,” says Nazimek. “That’s what I always tell people.” 

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