When VA dentist Dr. Joseph Hancock started at VA, “The WWII Veterans were the young ones.” As he recently celebrated 51 years of service, he noted that, “The Vietnam Veterans are now the older ones.”
Listening to the stories of Veterans, young and old, is one of his most pleasant memories.
He always knew when it was an important day for his WWII Veterans, such as Pearl Harbor or D-Day. His patients would tell him where they were on that day and the friends they lost.
Hancock wishes he had written down more of their stories.
Hancock, far left, noted that he grew a mustache when he started because everybody referred to him as the ‘young’ guy and didn’t believe he was old enough to be a dentist.
He started at Martinsburg VA on July 1, 1970, right out of dental school in Houston.
He was drafted in 1971, as there was a need for doctors and dentists. But in a life changing twist, shortly before he was due to report, he received a letter that his appointment was cancelled.
Residency Director for 30 years
In addition to his dentist duties, Hancock was named residency director and held that job for about 30 years. He loved working with and teaching new dentists, especially residents: “The kids seemed to stay the same age, but I got older.”
He became chief of dental service in 1997. His son is a dentist who also briefly worked at the Martinsburg VA.
Hancock retired from full time duty in 2012 but keeps his white coat handy. Today, he is a part-time dentist who works one day a week with the GOALS Program.
GOALS is: Gaining Occupational And Living Skills, under the Mental Health Residential Rehabilitation Treatment Program. In his one day per week, he can see anywhere from 8-15 Veteran patients.
As the GOALS provider, he says he has the “best job ever” because he forms relationships with Veterans, “Trying to get their lives back on track.” He enjoys watching them grow through the program.
“I’m a VA dentist. It’s who I am.”
Looking back over a half century of service, Hancock states, “I am a VA dentist. It’s who I am. I’ve never interviewed for a job ever.”
Hancock is very happy to see the new freestanding dental clinic on the Martinsburg campus. “I never thought he’d see anything like that,” he said. “The need has always been there, the demand to see more Veterans for dental. I’m very happy about the future of dental here at the Martinsburg VAMC.”