As I have written in the past, Boulder City has long been a supporter of veterans and their families. Not only the city itself, but also a large number of individual residents.
Many citizens silently help veterans in any number of ways, and others are involved with organizations that provide direct services for those veterans who are sometimes forgotten in times of need. Unfortunately, many lower income veterans often are forgotten when they are unable to afford professional dental care. That’s when Adopt a Vet Dental program steps in with a cadre of dentists who treat oral decay, denture repair and restorations, and who offer other emergency and/or critical care.
Having been in place in Northern Nevada for several years, the organization has now moved south to treat eligible veterans in and around this part of the state. I’m pleased to report that the local program manager is Boulder City resident Chere’ Pedersen, a longtime veterans’ advocate.
In charge of qualifying veterans and signing up dentists to participate in the program, Pedersen explained how she is currently beginning to establish the dental service.
“I thought the easiest thing to do was to go and talk to my own dentist,” she said. “So that’s what I did. Once I got him to fill out the paperwork, I then asked him for two more dentists that he thought might want to join us, and also who his lab is. We want to have everything done here in Nevada.”
The lab she signed up gave her a list of other local dentists that she approached.
“We do all the paperwork (about the veterans) for dentists and we know everything that’s going on before we match a veteran with a dentist.”
Pedersen said her oldest patient is a World War II veteran who is 92 years old. Another World War II veteran, quoted in an organization brochure, said he was so pleased with his dentist: “He offered to stand on his head for him.” (But Pedersen quipped that’s not required.)
“There’s a big misconception out there that people think that most veterans can just go to the VA (Veterans Affairs) for dental care. Actually there’s only about 5 percent that qualify. That would be if you were a POW (prisoner of war), or if you injured your mouth while you were in combat or if you are 100 percent disabled,” she explained.
That means that many hundreds of veterans are left with no dental care. There are many qualifications required for veterans to qualify. A few of them include being below 150 percent of federal guidelines of low income, being enrolled at the VA with a primary care provider, being a full-time Nevada resident, and not having any form of dental insurance.
“You know, their health is at risk. When veterans have a mouth full of decaying teeth and have not been to a dentist since they were in the military, especially older veterans from World War II, Korea and Vietnam, it affects their all-around health. Just a few of the health risks that can arise from teeth not being cared for include cardiovascular disease, where it is believed that clogged arteries and stroke might be linked to inflammations and infections caused by oral bacteria; pneumonia, caused by certain bacteria in the mouth that can be pulled into the lungs; and diabetes, as gum disease reduces the body’s resistance to infection. Gum disease appears to be more frequent and severe among people who have diabetes,” she said.
Veterans who believe they qualify for the program are urged to phone Pedersen at 702-275-5569. Once she speaks with them, if it appears that they are qualified, the veteran comes to her office (not in Boulder City) with the required paperwork and fills out additional forms to determine what type of dental work is needed. Then they are matched with a dentist.
Boulder City dentists who want to participate can also phone her for information.
Just how many dentists are there in Southern Nevada? “Literally, thousands! Just start driving and take a look,” she exclaimed. “On every corner there’s a dentist, there’s an orthodontist, there’s an oral surgeon.”
At the same time, there are many veterans who are eligible for treatment. All they have to do is call Pedersen. She promises they won’t get the brush-off.
Chuck N. Baker is an award-winning journalist and a Vietnam War Purple Heart veteran. He can be heard at 8:30 a.m. each Sunday on KKVV-AM hosting “That’s America to Me” and occasionally on KUNV-FM hosting “America’s Veterans, Today and Tomorrow.”