The Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services (MBVS) is pleased to announce the release of the first-ever, in-depth study of dental care for Maine veterans. The report, Oral Health Access for Maine’s Veterans, is a comprehensive review of access and barriers to dental services for Maine’s veterans. The findings reflect an overall view of dental care across the state and look at disparities by lack of access to care, distance, and cost of services.
Dental care access for veterans in Maine has been a topic among the veteran advocacy community for many years. In July of 2019, the MBVS was approached by a Navy Veteran who faced significant issues locating dental services for himself. Seeing an emergent need for veterans across Maine, MBVS applied to the Maine Health Access Foundation’s (MeHAF) Discretionary Grants program with a proposal to conduct a needs assessment regarding veterans’ access to dental services. In April of 2020, MBVS was notified they were awarded a $10,000 MeHAF grant. Sarah Sherman, Director of Strategic Partnerships for MBVS, immediately got to work sending an introductory letter explaining the project and a questionnaire to dental health providers across the state.
“The MBVS needs assessment concisely documents the long-standing problem of veterans’ access to dental services in Maine,” said David Richmond, director of the Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services. “It is the Bureau’s intent to pursue the report’s recommendations on both a national and state level with our partner organizations. Maine’s veterans have given their full commitment while serving in the U.S. Military, and it’s our duty to find them an easier route to maintain their oral health upon discharge.”
There are an estimated 112,367 veterans who reside in Maine, and only those who are 100% service-connected to the Veterans Administration (VA) (a total disability rating from the Veterans Health Administration) are granted access to dental care at the VA Maine Healthcare System. Between 2017 and 2019, 10,134 of Maine’s 100% service-connected veterans accessed health and dental care at the VA Maine Healthcare System or by accessing the affiliated Community Care Network.
Known barriers for veterans accessing oral health care include:
- Veteran isn’t 100% service-connected to the VA and isn’t eligible for VA dental services
- Transportation and distance to travel
- Cost of dental care
- Ability to access oral health within the civilian healthcare system
- Lack of dentists in Maine and substantial dental school debt for dentists
Report author Sarah Sherman offered the following regarding the finalization of the needs assessment, “Basic dental services (cleanings and checkups) are preventive medicine that all veterans should be able to access. Currently, Maine’s veterans face disproportionate barriers to accessing oral health services, especially in rural areas of the state. MBVS has spent the last six months looking for creative approaches to help rectify these issues and we’re pleased to release these findings. The Bureau looks forward to partnering with other veteran-centric agencies to assist with turning the needs assessment’s recommendations into actionable items to increase Maine’s veterans’ access to dental care.”
A few of the proposed solutions include:
- Organize a statewide oral health referral program for veterans to the University of New England’s Oral Health Center and UNE’s Dental Hygiene Clinic, the University of Maine at Augusta (Bangor Campus) Dental Hygiene Clinic, and to Maine’s network of Federally Qualified Health Centers, Community Care Clinics, and free-standing, non-profit clinics.
- Work with Northeast Delta Dental to create a model like New Hampshire’s Veterans’ Dental Network to help veterans access dental care.
- Collaborate with Maine’s existing transportation services to ensure veterans can get to and from their dental appointments.
- Partner with the VA Maine Healthcare System to increase recruitment of dentists in Eastern, Western, and Northern Maine for the VA’s Community Care Network.
- Work with the Lunder-Dineen Health Education Alliance, Maine Oral Health Coalition, and other partners to create a continuing education module regarding veterans’ dental services and trauma informed care for oral health professionals who work with them.
The Maine Bureau of Veterans’ Services would like to thank Judy Feinstein from the Maine Oral Health Coalition and David Wihry, Project Manager at the University of Maine Center on Aging for their collaboration on the report. Ms. Feinstein and Mr. Wihry contributed a great deal of time over the past few months working alongside the Bureau to develop the report, and their contributions were invaluable.
To access a list of Maine dental clinics, information about veterans’ dental insurance, fee scheduled for the UNE and UMA Dental Hygiene Clinics, or to read the full report, please visit: https://www.maine.gov/veterans/benefits/healthcare/dental_access_and_information.html.
You can also call the MBVS at 207-430-6035 or visit their website at www.maine.gov/veterans to learn more about available resources for veterans’ access to dental care in Maine.