Today, CareQuest Institute for Oral Health—a leading national nonprofit focused on creating a more accessible, equitable, and integrated oral health system—applauds members of the US House and Senate Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations Subcommittees for including language in their respective versions of the FY24 appropriations bills that would require the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to assess its oral health care program and its ability to adequately meet the needs of current and future veterans. The bills were voted out favorably by the US House Appropriations Committee on June 13 and by the US Senate Appropriations Committee on June 22, 2023.
The Senate bill also includes language that would require the VA to assess the feasibility of expanding dental care to all veterans diagnosed with heart disease or diabetes.
CareQuest Institute for Oral Health president and CEO, Myechia Minter-Jordan, MD, MBA, issued the following statement:
“The inclusion of this language in the House and Senate Appropriations bills recognizes the unfortunate reality that millions of veterans struggle to access basic health care services across our country each day.
“Right now, 85% of veterans are not eligible for dental care through the VA and many end up paying out of pocket or do not receive care at all, putting their financial and physical health at risk. We also know that compared to nonveterans, veterans are more likely to experience worse oral health outcomes, including higher rates of tooth decay, higher rates of gum disease, and an increased need for restorative dental care.
“After putting their lives on the line to serve our country, access to critical health care services is the last thing that veterans should have to worry about. This proposal will require the assessment of the current VA oral health care program and help us start taking the steps necessary to ensure veterans are getting the care they need and deserve.
“We thank the House and Senate Appropriations Committees for their advocacy and look forward to continuing to work with Congress to address this unmet health need faced by our veterans.”
Additional research and facts about veterans’ oral health:
- The VA reports that only 15% of veterans are eligible to access dental services through the VA health system.
- The majority of the 85% of veterans who are not eligible for dental care through the VA access dental insurance through an employer, through self-pay, or not at all, creating health risks and/or undue financial burden.
- Approximately 42% of veterans report having had gum treatment or bone loss around their teeth as compared to 27% of nonveterans.
- Roughly two in five, or 8 million veterans, describe their oral health as fair or poor.
- Nearly 24% of veterans live in rural areas, where consistent access to care can be challenging.
A visual report from CareQuest Institute and the American Institute of Dental Public Health (AIDPH) shows that improving dental care for veterans reduces costs, improves overall health, and stimulates the economy. The report includes some heartbreaking firsthand accounts from veterans who are struggling to access oral health care. CareQuest Institute and AIDPH also released a white paper focused on solutions supporting veteran oral health.