Giving veterans the oral health care they earned

With today’s political landscape, we need more businesses to step up to the plate to handle critical health issues in New Hampshire and not wait for the state or federal government to act.

While we are all pointing fingers at each other, the opioid crisis continues, we send citizens to war, and when they return as veterans, we do not always provide them the care they need as quickly as we could. Part of this care is access to affordable, quality, dental care. For this reason, the team at Northeast Delta Dental has joined other community leaders to figure out a solution and change the dental landscape for Veterans and new Americans. 

As president and CEO of Northeast Delta Dental, I recently listened to a local radio talk show that revealed startling news: New Hampshire veterans who rely on the Manchester VA for care were not getting dental care. Veterans who meet eligibility criteria can receive health care they were promised.

Although the debate for positive and negative points for the VA system is for another forum, it is incumbent upon me to share my deep concern that though receiving oral health care is an important part of overall health, regular access to dental care is currently limited by federal law to veterans that have dental problems directly related to a military injury or accident, who are 100 percent disabled or who were prisoners of war. 

While honorably discharged veterans may access free dental care for a period of 180 days after they leave the service and special programs are in place for homeless veterans, many are still falling through the cracks. 

As a business leader with more than 20 years of service in New Hampshire, I have grown to appreciate the camaraderie among my colleagues in helping to make oral health a priority. Realizing the immediate need for veterans, I conferred with a few other business leaders and took action. We contacted a few veteran-owned dental practices, which immediately provided urgent dental care and oral surgery for veterans. 

To help decrease gaps in dental care for veterans, Delta Dental Insurance Company (DDIC), a subsidiary of Northeast Delta Dental’s sister company, Delta Dental of California, has partnered with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to create the Veterans Affairs Dental Insurance Program (VADIP). Those enrolled in Veterans Affairs Civilian Health and Medical Program (CHAMPVA) and veterans enrolled in the VA’s health care system, are eligible. Through collaborative efforts, the same program is available to veterans in New Hampshire.

We know there is an oral health access problem in New Hampshire, especially for those who cannot afford the care they need. Northeast Delta Dental and others noticed this barrier, and we worked together to solve it the “New Hampshire way.” We also worked with the Boys & Girls Club to help the children of new Americans and all of our children improve their oral health through regular oral health screenings. If additional care is needed, the children’s dental care may be expedited to the Easter Seals Dental Clinic or Saving People’s Smiles. 

When current systems are not able to improve a public health issue, sometimes businesses and nonprofits must join together to get things done. I find it humbling that we have been able to improve the dental health in these two underserved populations. 

Tom Raffio is president and CEO of Concord-based Northeast Delta Dental.

Categories: Opinion