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ADA supports VA pilot program to improve dental access

Association urges new administration to continue the project

December 18, 2020

By Jennifer Garvin

Washington — The ADA “fully supports” the Department of Veteran Affairs’ Pilot Program for Dental Health Care Access and is asking the new administration to continue the project and its goal to improve access to dental services for enrolled veterans currently ineligible for VA dental services.

In a Dec. 14 letter to President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, ADA President Daniel J. Klemmedson, D.D.S., M.D., and Executive Director Kathleen T. O’Loughlin, D.M.D., praised the lawmakers for their passion for helping veterans and urged them to support the pilot program.

As per the Federal Register Notice of Intent for the VA Pilot Program, the VA is only able to provide dental services on an annual basis to about 8% of veterans who are enrolled in the VA health care system. The agency has limited authority to furnish outpatient dental care and generally veterans must either have a dental issue that is service connected or qualify based on narrow criteria such as being a former prisoner of war or having a service-connected disability rated as total.

The ADA and VA are hopeful that the pilot program will improve the quality of oral health for veterans while decreasing health care-related costs related to emergency department (ED) visits at the same time.

“Poor oral health can have a significant negative effect on overall health. Neglecting oral health can lead to health problems, including oral cancer, and oral health is a window to your overall health,” wrote Drs. Klemmedson and O’Loughlin, who noted that dental visits currently account for more than two million visits to hospital emergency departments each year.

“The VA believes there is an opportunity for cost savings to be realized through reduction of ED utilization caused by increasing access to dental care,” Drs. Klemmedson and O’Loughlin continued. “The ADA is committed to supporting the VA’s goal to lessen ED visits and enhance the oral health of our veterans.”

Drs. Klemmedson and O’Loughlin also told the president-elect and vice president-elect that earlier this year, the ADA adopted new policy aligning with the VA’s dental pilot program.

“Specifically, we support the federal authorization of administrative support resources within the Veterans Administration Medical Centers to assist veterans to identify and utilize dental services offered by federally qualified health centers, not for profit dental care facilities, and volunteer dental professionals,” they wrote. “Furthermore, the ADA supports the work of component and constituent dental associations, dental organizations, societies and dentists to develop new programs with outreach strategies to assist veterans with unmet dental treatment needs, and to serve as a resource in finding dental homes for veterans.”

The letter concluded by saying the ADA is currently collaborating with the VA Innovation Center and providing advisory guidance on all aspects of the pilot and fostering partnerships for the facilitation of veteran dental services.

“Developing alliances with private dental offices, other organizations and Federally Qualified Health Centers will be critical to the success of this effort,” ADA said.

For more information about the ADA’s advocacy efforts, visit ADA.org/Advocacy.