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Maine veterans getting more help with dental care

The Maine Bureau of Veterans' Services has been getting many requests, especially from veterans’ families, 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 bureau had been getting many requests, especially from veterans’ families, for help with dental care. Sherman’s boss, David Richmond, asked her to consider the need.

“I found the need was tremendous,” Sherman said.

She found, among other facts, that only about 10% of Maine’s 103,000 veterans are eligible for full, service-connected disability benefits. Those veterans would get dental care as part of their benefits.

“That other 90% are basically fending for themselves, in a sense,” she said. 

Military retirees may typically get dental care as part of their retirement health benefits. But those who did not make a full military career and have no relevant service-related wound or injury have to get dental care in another way. And Sherman said her study showed many get none.

“Overwhelmingly, the response was ‘I haven’t had dental care since I left the service,’ and I would say, ‘Sir or Ma’am, how long has that been?’ And it would be 10, 20, 30 years,” Sherman said.

But some are finally getting that care through the new Maine Veterans’ Dental Network. Eligible veterans can get their teeth fixed for free at 14 nonprofit clinics and federally-qualified health centers around the state.

Allison Raymond is a dental hygenist at Lincoln County Dental in Wiscasset and said she has already provided cleanings to at least a dozen veterans in the new program.

“When I have a veteran in my chair who I know is a veteran, I’m able to mention the program, and we have enrolled several other vets who didn’t know about the program,” she said.

A grant from Northeast Delta Dental is paying for the network. Following Sherman’s report in 2020, the insurance company gave the state $35,000 to start the program, modeled after one the company also funds in New Hampshire. While the services only started in May of this year, Northeast Delta Dental has already donated $100,000 more to help the dental network grow.

“I think they found there was such a need in our state,” Bureau of Veteran Services Director David Richmond said. He explained the donation nearly tripled the original amount, adding, “We were coming up with positive results with the number of vets we were able to help.” 

As of Tuesday, the bureau reported 300 veterans signed up for the network so far.

At the Wiscasset clinic, retired dentist Dr. Jim Olsen said a lot of veterans still don’t know about the program, and both the clinic and the bureau hope the publicity about the new grant will bring in more vets to enroll.

Olsen, who volunteers at the clinic, said the network is working.

“In fact, one of my former patients from 10 or 15 years ago came in and qualified and was very thankful it’s available,” Olsen said.

Veterans who wish to sign up for the program must be income-eligible, not be rated 100% service-connected disability with the VA, and not be receiving a military retiree pension and health care benefits. 

To enroll, contact Sherman at the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services by calling 207-430-6035, or click here.

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