Tester, Moran, Sanders Hold Bipartisan Roundtable to Improve Veterans’ Access to VA Dental Care

Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee members and stakeholders discussed steps to expand VA dental services for veterans

(U.S. Senate) – Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Ranking Member Jerry Moran (R-Kans.), and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) today hosted a bipartisan roundtable with stakeholders and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) officials to discuss enhancing veterans’ access to dental care.

“Because only a small fraction of veterans are eligible for VA dental care, we know many of these men and women are burdened with the high costs of dental treatment or go without necessary care—and that’s unacceptable,” said Chairman Tester. “That’s why I’m glad to have led a candid discussion today with my Committee colleagues about the urgent need to expand veterans’ access to the health care they’ve earned. We heard directly from stakeholders about what can be done to provide veterans quality dental services, and I look forward to working with VA to quickly set these solutions into motion.”

“Access to dental care and oral health are important components of your overall health,” said Ranking Member Moran. “Veterans who are eligible for dental care through the VA utilize that service at much lower rates than those eligible for VA health care or Americans with private dental insurance. I appreciate hearing from the roundtable participants on how the VA is working to meet staffing and capacity needs to provide better dental care to our veterans.”

“I am very glad we were able to have this bipartisan roundtable today on strengthening dental care for veterans,” said Sen. Sanders. “I think we can all agree that dental care is health care, and no veteran should go without the health care they need. As a member and former chair of this committee, I have seen up close the pain, death, and despair caused by war and its aftermath. Honoring that extraordinary sacrifice is one of the most important commitments we have as a country. That means making sure our veterans and their families have access to the best health care, including dental care, our country can provide. We must continue to work together to strengthen the VA health care system so that all veterans can get the quality care they need.”

VA currently provides dental care services to a fraction of veterans enrolled in the VA health care system, including veterans with a 100 percent service-connected disability, veterans with service-connected dental conditions, former prisoners of war, and homeless veterans. According to VA, only six percent of the almost nine million VA enrollees receive VA dental care.

At the roundtable, the Senators engaged Assistant Under Secretary for Health for Dentistry Patricia Arola and Veterans Service Organizations in various topics, such as expanding VA’s capacity to provide in-house dental care to more veterans, expanding rural veterans’ access to dental services, and increasing research on veterans’ dental health programs.

“Proper oral health is a necessity to achieving whole health,” said The American Legion Legislative Director Lawrence Montreuil. “It is well documented that poor oral hygiene has been linked to health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, endocarditis, pregnancy complications, and pneumonia. Despite this, only a select few veterans of the nine million who are enrolled in VA are eligible for dental care. VA has taken steps to increase veterans awareness and access to dental services but additional steps need to be taken, which is why we thank Chairman Tester, Ranking Member Moran, and Senator Sanders for leading this important discussion today.”

“Dental care is an integral part of an individual’s overall health, and we should treat it as such,” said Disabled American Veterans (DAV) National Legislative Director Joy Ilem. “Right now, there are too many limitations that prevent veterans from obtaining this essential benefit that we believe should be part of VA’s ‘whole health’ approach, so we greatly appreciate the opportunity to have this discussion and highlight this important issue.”