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.