U.S. court rules on dental services for veterans

In a case that could define what dental services the U.S. government must provide to veterans, a federal appeals court has denied a Korean War veteran's demand that the government provide him with dentures to replace the teeth extracted by military dentists.

The dentists extracted all but three of Thomas M. Nielson's teeth without anesthesia while he was serving with the U.S. Air Force in Korea in 1952, according to an account of the case included in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit's June 7, 2010, ruling. They took out the other three when he was back in the U.S. in 1953 and provided him with dentures.

While records of the treatment are missing, Nielson's handwritten diary suggests he was suffering from severe periodontitis, the court said.

In 1991, Nielson, who had left the Air Force in 1957, submitted a claim to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) asking for a new set of dentures and citing a statute that provides veterans with dental care for "service-connected dental condition[s] or disabilit[ies] due to combat wounds or other service trauma."

The court ruled that extracting Nielson's teeth -- even without anesthesia -- didn't constitute "service trauma" because the phrase doesn't "include the intended results of proper medical treatment provided by the military." Therefore, it said, the government has no obligation to provide Nielson with new dentures.

Federal law passed May 5, 2010, tasks the VA to set up a pilot program in which it would offer dental insurance to all veterans and to veterans' survivors and dependents.

Copyright © 2010 DrBicuspid.com

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