Many Americans have next to nothing saved for retirement and are living paycheck to paycheck. That makes it difficult, to say the least, when unexpected costs come up. Between low wages, student loan debt, and overall living costs, it’s no wonder that financial woes might be on your mind. U.S. homeowners even paid $88 billion in assessments toward community associations in 2016. And that doesn’t even factor in the growing costs of healthcare.
The current system is undoubtedly flawed, with both premiums and out-of-pocket costs on the rise. For some Americans — among them, the country’s most honorable — the financial burden is so great that preventative and even emergency services might be neglected. But New York State is attempting to change that, little by little.
That’s why legislators are putting the spotlight on veteran dental coverage. According to a 2015 article by the Huffington Post, veterans may qualify for full benefits through the VA only if they are 100% disabled (though some sources say veterans have to be at least 70% disabled), have been a prisoner of war, or have developed a dental condition during the course of their service. Since those are rather substantial barriers to treatment, many veterans have no other choice but to go without.
While dentistry is considered to be one of the 10 most trusted and ethical professions in the U.S., those who have served our country simply aren’t able to take advantage of these valuable health services. Making the problem worse is the fact that nearly 2 million veterans don’t have any kind of health insurance at all. And since we know a lack of dental care can have profoundly negative effects on overall health, the nation is failing to protect those who have protected the nation.
There’s hope for those veterans living in New York, however. State lawmakers and regional organizations are making attempts to provide the vital dental services these brave men and women deserve. Last month, State Assemblyman David DiPietro revealed a proposed piece of legislation that could make a huge difference. If passed, the bill would set aside at least $5 million to create new dental insurance options to cover costs not reimbursed by the VA for all military veterans living in the state of New York. That said, veterans who are 50% disabled or less would still be responsible for co-payments, which would be calculated based on income. Moreover, any veterans who receive similar or better coverage through private insurance companies would not be eligible for this state funded coverage.
Still, many veterans are in support of the measure — though whether it will pass remains to be seen. And while New York residents wait to hear, at least some organizations are making dental care more accessible to veterans.
There’s an important emphasis to prioritize dental care from an early age, of course. The two main reasons for getting braces are cosmetic or are to correct conditions like overbites — and these treatments tend to work best when they’re performed on patients of a certain age. That doesn’t mean it’s all well and good to neglect dental care as one ages, however, which is why the University of Buffalo has created a program to help veterans in need. UB’s annual Dentistry Smiles on Veterans event — which is a partnership between the dental school, the New York State Dental Association, the New York State Dental Foundation, and the Eighth District Dental Society — involved more than 100 dentists, dental hygienists, and university dental students who volunteered their time to serve nearly 200 veterans from Western New York. Over the past five years, the yearly event has served approximately 700 veterans, with many going on to become regular clinic patients who are able to receive affordable preventative care.
Brendan Dowd, D.D.S, clinical assistant professor of restorative dentistry at the UB School of Dental Medicine, noted in a statement: “The University at Buffalo School of Dental Medicine is proud to help veterans who have helped our country. It is a small token of our appreciation to assist the folks who have defended our country when it has needed it the most.”
While the nation still has a long ways to go in regards to offering the preventative care all Americans need, the actions of these organizations and lawmakers will serve as a step in the right direction towards providing better treatment to citizens in New York State.