Where did the idea of Give Vets a Smile originate? When I volunteered for the Veterans Stand Down in 2015, I assumed all vets could access the VA health system for their dental care. When I found out that this was not true, I knew the DSDS could help. The Stand Down event was designed to help vets in need with housing, job placement, and medical care; however, dental care wasn't a resource that Liz Byers-Jiron, Program Director, Veterans Awareness Center, had to offer. We all know that we could do more in our own offices with our own staff vs. what can be accomplished at a one-day event. My thought was that if we could get dentists to agree to a reduced fee schedule and Liz could get some funding, we could have the available chair time to treat all vets in need. I also felt that this volunteer service group was very deserving of our help. Thankfully many of our members agreed with me.

So, were you surprised that 43 dentists throughout the state volunteered their services? I was very happy to see so many of our colleagues including specialists did sign up to help the vets. Many of these offices have seen a veteran or two already. We are always looking to add volunteers, if any others want to join us.

Is there any funding for the program? If not, do you foresee funding for the program? The Give a Vet a Smile program is partnered with Greenwood Delaware Awareness Center Foundation.Liz Byers-Jiron helps us by identifying what veterans are truly in need and then are referred to private offices. She also is tasked with identifying sources of funding for the program. As of my last conversation with her she had secured a $10,000 grant for dental care. As you know, this will help with lab costs and provide limited reimbursement, but more funding will be needed to keep the program running. During this year’s Stand Down event, we had the ability to reach out to both Delaware legislators and Senator Coons to explain the program and the need for funding for Veterans. One of the subjects that was mentioned was adult Medicaid coverage which would go a long way toward providing care for these vets in need.

Since you have worked closely with Liz Byers-Jiron, how has she helped with this program? How has she been an inspiration? Liz has worked very hard to see veterans get the care and help they need to integrate back into civilian life. Her drive has helped to virtually eliminate veteran homelessness in Delaware. From haircuts to flu shots to clothing assistance, the Stand Down helps to identify veterans needs and then Liz sets out to see that those needs are met. She is an invaluable partner for our Give a Vet a Smile program.

How has the model worked where the veterans in need are assigned a private office in the community? I tend to only hear about the program when there are problems. Thankfully this has not been a frequent occurrence. Most of the issues with the program revolve around the lack of funding for dental care. As I have said from the outset, if this program relies on DSDS members not only giving free care but paying for the lab charges as well, I fear dentists will drop out over time. Dodd Dental Lab has really stepped up and deserves kudos for discounting their fees for multiple doctors serving the veterans. I assume the model has worked as intended in private offices.

Is there a need within the veteran community for dental care? After our recent Stand down where we screened 129 veterans, I can say yes there is a great need for dental care for Delaware veterans. 

By providing care, is this a way of showing gratitude toward the veterans? Without adult Medicaid coverage for dental care, there will always be segments of the population who are deserving of charity. Delaware veterans who have a demonstrated need rise to the top of the list in my mind as deserving of our help as a society.

Are you aware of any other programs like this in the country? While I am sure there are other states who have similar programs, I can't point to any that are the same as our program here in Delaware. We rely on Liz to "vet" the veterans and determine who has a true need and should be seen by our volunteers for free or reduced fee care.

 


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