by Annaliese Cothron, AIDPH Executive Director
Rural veterans, like many rural Americans, struggle with consistent access to affordable dental care. More than 85% of veterans don’t qualify for dental care through the VA — and among those who are eligible, only 15% utilize this benefit. During the month of November, AIDPH and CareQuest Institute for Oral Health have focused our efforts on bringing visibility to the experience of rural veterans — most recently in the release of a rural veteran visualization to our veteran oral health data dashboard.
The dashboard features results from our 2021 Veteran Oral Health Survey disseminated in partnership with the VFW. We encourage folks to review the rural veteran dashboard alongside the oral health indicators available on the state and community levels to see how veterans experience health and well-being in your area.
As we celebrate both Veterans Day and National Rural Health Day in the month of November, I felt it was important to highlight not only our data, but the personal experience of rural veterans themselves as shared with us through our 2022 Veteran Oral Health Survey. One rural veteran expressed that they enjoyed their experience with VA dental care, citing that they felt “like they mattered a lot” to the providers. Their only negative feedback was that they wished the clinic was closer, but a long drive was ultimately “worth it” given how well they were treated.
Most rural veterans are not accessing dental care in VA hospitals because they aren’t eligible. One rural veteran shared that he received his primary care at a VA clinic, but he was not eligible for dental care.
He explained, “I get little coverage for the money I pay. As we get older our dental needs increase but our income doesn’t. I think all veterans should be able to get dental care through the VA hospitals and not have to go outside the VA and pay for dental insurance. We served our country, it’s time they serve us.”
Another veteran said it best when they shared, “I hope to increase the investment in the health resources of veterans. They have paid their youth for this country, and some of them have paid [with] their lives. Please pay more attention to them.”
Thank you for paying attention to rural veterans this month as we release more data, share more stories, and add more tools for advocacy. Make sure you’re registered for our upcoming ECHO session on Rural Veteran Oral Health as we reveal findings from our upcoming report and review opportunities to use the veteran oral health data dashboard.