On July 1, VA launched VETSmile: Connecting Veterans with Dentists in their Community in partnership with leading dental care providers in New York City and New Jersey, the initial sites of a pilot launch.
VETSmile is a Veteran-centered effort that broadens dental care access for VA-enrolled Veterans through collaborations with compassionate dental care sites that provide high quality services for our nation’s heroes.
The program is designed to provide a first touchpoint for Veterans that do not have a regular dentist and for those who may need help paying for dental care.
VETSmile is a Center for Care and Payment Innovation (CCPI)-led pilot program. It seeks to advance continuous and comprehensive oral and dental health care services for VA-enrolled Veterans who are ineligible to receive VA dental care services.
The VETSmile program will also integrate oral health educational component to encourage continued oral hygiene practices into Veterans’ daily lives.
Connecting Veterans with dentists in their communities
Good oral health is a window to an individual’s overall health. Furthermore, there are possible connections between gum problems and health issues, including heart disease, bacterial pneumonia and stroke, as evidenced by clinical research.
The need to ramp up Veterans’ access to dental care still exists. Only about 8% of the Veterans who are enrolled in the VA health care system qualify for VA dental benefits.
VETSmile to serve 3,900 Veterans in the initial pilot sites in the first year
For the initial pilot sites, VETSmile expects to serve an estimated 3,900 Veterans through 9,000 Veteran patient visits in the first year of implementation.
These numbers will grow as additional dental care providers from different regions of the country are added to the pilot program. That could happen as early as late Fall 2021.
“We are very excited and incredibly fortunate to collaborate with dental care providers who are passionate about comprehensive dental services and quality care for Veterans,” said Dr. Roshni Ghosh, the CCPI acting executive director.
VETSmile services offered to eligible Veterans may include acute emergency dental care, preventive oral care, treatment of oral disease, dental restoration, endodontics and periodontics. The services provided depend on the community provider.
Holistic dental care critical to achieving health equity
The pilot program aligns with the VA mission to honor and serve Veterans. The initial partner sites are in New York City at New York University (NYU) College of Dentistry and in New Jersey at Zufall Health Center and Rutgers School of Dental Medicine.
Both have committed to providing free or discounted services to Veterans enrolled in VETSmile at their state-of-the art dental care facilities.
VETSmile is known as VETSmile/VOCARE at NYU College of Dentistry. VOCARE stands for Veterans Oral Care Access Resource.
VETSmile aims to improve Veterans’ overall health and reduce the demand for emergency dental care in hospitals.
“Increasing access to comprehensive, holistic dental care is critical for achieving health equity. This is especially true for populations that face barriers to receiving care,” said Dr. Charles N. Bertolami, the Herman Robert Fox dean of NYU College of Dentistry.
Each pilot site offers leading-edge technology and services that are designed with diverse Veteran needs in mind. NYU College of Dentistry, Zufall Health Center and Rutgers School of Dental Medicine have top-notch facilities that are accessible by public transportation.
Additionally, the facilities have dedicated staff and the resources to readily accommodate patients with disabilities or patients that have a history of trauma.
Partners’ commitment will improve access to dental care
“We are very excited to partner with VA to expand Veterans’ access to quality dental services,” said Eva Turbiner, president and CEO of the Zufall Health Center. “For many years, Zufall has made special efforts to engage and serve the many Veterans in our community who need affordable oral health care.”
Strategic partnerships with the American Dental Association (ADA), the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) and the VA Office of Dentistry will support the development and success of this pilot.
“The American Dental Association is proud to collaborate with the VETSmile partnership to improve Veterans’ access to quality and affordable dental care,” said ADA President Dr. Daniel J. Klemmedson.
Veterans will be notified and referred into the program
For Zufall Health Center, eligible Veterans will be notified through letters, emails and text message. For NYU College of Dentistry program enrollment, eligible Veterans will be referred by their primary care physicians at VA New York Harbor Health System.
“VA New York Harbor’s mission is to provide world-class care to our nation’s heroes,” said Martina Parauda, director of the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System. “We are proud to partner with the New York University College of Dentistry. Together, we expand that mandate by ensuring all Veterans have access to quality dental care.”
For more information, visit the VETSmile webpage: https://www.innovation.va.gov/about/vetsmile.
Program to rapidly expand across the country
CCPI will continue to collaborate with local partners to ensure eligible Veterans have access to seamless dental care. The initial launch is in New York City and New Jersey. CCPI will rapidly accelerate efforts to expand the VETSmile pilot program across the country.
Over VETSmile’s initial five-year duration, CCPI will continually improve the pilot program.
We will build momentum by fostering partnerships with additional dental care providers in other areas across the nation to enhance Veterans’ access to quality and affordable dental care.
The VETSmile program will carry on for the next five years. After that, administrators will assess it for scaling or an extension.
About the Center for Care and Payment Innovation
CCPI operates under VA’s Office of Healthcare Innovation and Learning. The MISSION Act of 2018 established CCPI to carry out innovative approaches to testing payment and service delivery models. This reduces expenditures while preserving or enhancing the quality of care furnished by VA.