The Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services has received many requests, especially from families of veterans, for help with dental care.
AUGUSTA, Maine – In 2020, just before the pandemic hit, Sarah Sherman was asked to do some research.
Sherman is Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services and a longtime advocate for military veterans.
The office had received many requests, especially from families of veterans, for dental assistance. Sherman’s boss, David Richmond, asked him to look into the need.
“I found the need to be overwhelming,” Sherman said.
She found, among other facts, that only about 10% of Maine’s 103,000 veterans are eligible for full and service-related disability benefits. These veterans would get dental treatment as part of their benefits.
“Those other 90% are basically doing things on their own, in a sense,” she said.
Military retirees can generally obtain dental care as part of their retirement benefits. But those who haven’t had a full military career and don’t have a service-related injury or injury have to get dental treatment in another way. And Sherman said his study shows many don’t.
“Overwhelmingly, the response was ‘I have not had dental treatment since leaving the service’ and I was like, ‘Sir or Madam, how long has it been?’ And that would be 10, 20, 30 years, ”Sherman said.
But some are finally getting that care thanks to Maine’s new veterans dental network. Eligible veterans can get their teeth treated for free at 14 nonprofit clinics and federally licensed health centers statewide.
Allison Raymond is a dental hygienist at Lincoln County Dental in Wiscasset and said she has already cleaned up at least a dozen veterans of the new program.
“When I have a veteran in my chair who I know is a veteran, I can mention the program, and we enrolled several other veterans who were not aware of the program,” she said.
A grant from Northeast Delta Dental pays for the network. Following Sherman’s report in 2020, the insurance company gave the state $ 35,000 to launch the program, modeled on one the company is also funding in New Hampshire. While services did not begin until May of this year, Northeast Delta Dental has already donated an additional $ 100,000 to help the dental network grow.
“I think they found out there was such a need in our state,” said Director of the Bureau of Veterans Services David Richmond. He explained that the donation had almost tripled the original amount, adding: “We are having positive results with the number of vets we have been able to help.”
On Tuesday, the office reported that 300 veterans have signed up for the network so far.
At the Wiscasset clinic, retired dentist Dr Jim Olsen said many veterans are still unfamiliar with the program, and the clinic and office are hopeful that publicity on the new grant will attract more vets to s ‘to register.
Olsen, who volunteers at the clinic, said the network was working.
“In fact, one of my former patients 10 or 15 years ago came in and qualified and was very grateful that he was available,” said Olsen.
Veterans who wish to enroll in the program must be income eligible, not be assessed as 100% service-related disability with the VA, and not be receiving military superannuation and health care benefits.
To register, contact Sherman at the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services by calling 207-430-6035, or click here.