VA Pilots Dental Program on East Coast, Plans to Expand Nationally

The Department of Veterans Affairs has launched a pilot dental care program in New Jersey and New York City, and it has plans to expand it nationwide soon.

The VETSmile program launched July 1, 2021. It is designed to provide free or discounted dental care through civilian facilities to veterans who are not normally eligible for VA dental care and cannot afford necessary dental treatment.

According to the VA, only about 8% of the 9 million veterans enrolled in VA health care qualify for dental care through the agency. Normally, veterans must have a service-connected dental injury or condition to be eligible for VA provided dental care.

See: VA Dental Care

Details of Pilot Program

The pilot program, which currently is operating at New York University College of Dentistry in New York City and Rutgers School of Dental Medicine in New Jersey, currently covers 3,900 veterans but is planning to expand rapidly nationwide over the next few years.

The VA said in an online post that veterans who are eligible for the pilot program will be notified either through letters, emails or text messages; or referred to the program by their primary care physician.

Eligibility for the program varies. In New York City, veterans who are enrolled in the VA health-care system but not eligible to receive dental care from the VA are eligible for the new pilot program. In New Jersey, only residents of that state who have no dental insurance and are considered at or below 250% of the federal poverty level are eligible. See the current federal poverty guidelines.

In New York, all dental care provided by the pilot program is free. In New Jersey, any costs are based on the veteran’s income; however, any charges will be deeply discounted from the norm.

Expansion of Pilot Program

The VA says it still is working on lining up civilian dentists to participate in the program across the country, and eligibility for the program as well as a veteran’s costs may differ depending on local circumstances. However, the pilot program is scheduled to last at least five years.

The VA is expected to make more announcements regarding expansion of the program in the coming months.

For more information, visit the VETSmile webpage.

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