VHA dental coverage eligibility is very limited and based on a strict benefits classification system. Qualifying classifications for dental coverage include, but are not limited to, former prisoners of war; service-connected dental disabilities; veterans participating in specific employment programs; and veterans receiving inpatient hospital care. Imposing these restrictions on dental coverage increases the risk of exacerbating both health disparities and possible financial burdens for the majority of veterans. Veterans living with heart disease and diabetes often experience worse health outcomes than nonveterans with these conditions, and these two chronic disease conditions that are known to worsen oral health.
The American Institute of Dental Public Health (AIDPH) and CareQuest Institute for Oral Health surveyed almost 4,000 veterans in 2021 and 2022 on their self-reported oral health outcomes and access to dental care. This research brief highlights key financial and health outcomes, including:
- 45%of surveyed veterans reported having permanent teeth removed due to pain or infection after separation from the military.
- On average, veterans pay 65% more in out-of-pocket dental costs compared to nonveterans.
- If the VHA expanded access to dental care for current enrollees with heart disease and diabetes, and 50% of those veterans utilized periodontal care, the VHA could save an estimated $3.4 billion dollars in medical costs — almost 1.5 times the annual VHA budget — for dental care.