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VA opposes bill to grant dental care to all veterans

U.S. Air Force Major Rachael Parrish, 20th Dental Squadron general dentist, performs an oral exam on Airman 1st Class Amie Bickford, 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron munitions technician at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., March 13, 2017.

CHRISTOPHER MALDONADO/U.S. AIR FORCE

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 23, 2020

WASHINGTON — The Department of Veterans Affairs voiced its opposition Thursday to legislation that would require the department to provide dental treatment for all veterans enrolled in VA health care.

The bill, introduced by Rep. Julia Brownley, D-Calif., aims to phase in dental care at the VA within four years. Now, the department provides dental treatment only to veterans whose dental issues are related to their military service. Brownley said that is equal to about one in 17 VA enrollees being eligible for dental care.

“Current law restricts the VA’s ability to provide dental care to most veterans,” Brownley said. “The cost of private-sector dental care is often too expensive, leaving too many veterans without dental care at all.”

The House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs considered the bill during a hearing Thursday. The VA was strongly opposed.

“We don’t have the resources from a capacity perspective, and we don’t have the resources from a funding perspective,” said Maria Llorente, an assistant deputy undersecretary of the VA.

About 9.3 million veterans are enrolled in VA health care. Of those, 1.35 million are eligible for dental care through the department. The legislation would increase the number of eligible veterans by more than 670%, Llorente said, and “create a significant spike in the need for resources to meet the increased demand.”

If Congress approves the bill, Llorente estimated the cost of expanding dental care would be about $7 billion the first year after the legislation is enacted. The measure would increase costs by more than $150 billion for 10 years.

In response, Brownley cited a 2019 report, in which the VA said “poor oral health can have a significant negative effect on overall health.” She argued providing dental care for veterans would lead to better health outcomes and lower costs in the long term.

In a statement after the hearing, Brownley called the VA’s opposition “baffling and disappointing.”

“When we send our young men and women to war, we rarely ask how we are going to pay for it, so it is frustrating to me that when they come home, we constantly hear the refrain that veterans’ health care costs too much,” she said.

It was unclear Thursday when the committee would vote on the legislation. If passed by the committee, the bill would be sent to the House floor for consideration.

wentling.nikki@stripes.com
Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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