Pilot program to offer dental insurance for U.S. veterans

2010 05 07 14 50 47 6 Flag Military Salute 70

A bill signed into law by President Barack Obama takes the first step toward offering dental benefits to all 23 million U.S. veterans and also veterans' dependents and survivors.

“The legislation is very positive, but it is simply too early to comment beyond that.”
— Joe Davis, Veterans of Foreign Wars

The Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act, signed May 5 by Obama, directs the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to undertake a feasibility study on selling dental insurance to these groups.

The law is vague on specifics, with much left to the VA to decide. "The legislation is very positive, but it is simply too early to comment beyond that," said Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW).

The insurance program will be voluntary, and the VA "will contract with a dental insurer" to administer the plan, charging premiums high enough to cover its cost.

VA spokesman Drew Brookie said he had no information yet beyond the text of the bill itself, which leaves unclear such key questions as where the pilot program will take place and how patients and providers can sign up.

Covered benefits will include at minimum diagnostic, preventive, endodontic, and other restorative services, as well as surgical and emergency services.

Currently, veterans are only eligible for dental benefits under one of the following circumstances: their dental needs result from their military service, their dental needs affect a covered medical condition, they are disabled or unemployable because of their service, or they are homeless or in rehabilitation. The VA directly employs a team of dentists. The new law specifically leaves these programs in place.

Under the terms of the new law, the pilot dental insurance program will start some time in the next 267 days and will last three years.

The pilot program is part of a larger package of health benefits offered to veterans under the new law. The law offers expanded healthcare for female veterans, such as maternity care for newborn children. It eliminates co-payments for badly disabled veterans, expands homeless support, and extends benefits to people who care for veterans.

"We're forever mindful that our obligations to our troops don't end on the battlefield," said Obama in signing the bill. "Just as we have a responsibility to train and equip them when we send them into harm's way, we have a responsibility to take care of them when they come home."

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