Washington, D.C. – Today, the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs held a legislative hearing on several bills, including the Dental Care for Veterans Act (H.R. 96) authored by Congresswoman Julia Brownley (D-CA). The bill would authorize VA to provide dental care to all veterans enrolled in the VA healthcare system.
“Approximately nine million veterans are currently enrolled in the VA healthcare system, but only one in 17 received dental care from VA, even though poor dental care is directly associated with poorer overall health,” said Congresswoman Brownley. “As Congress and VA work together to address veterans’ whole health, we must treat veterans’ dental care just as integrally as their medical care. It is our duty to ensure that our nation’s veterans receive first class medical care and this bill moves us closer to that goal.”
This legislation would eliminate current statutory eligibility restrictions for VA dental care and expand eligibility for VA dental care to all veterans enrolled in the system making dental care part of the standard medical benefits package for all enrolled veterans. This bill will improve the physical health and welfare of our veterans and will ensure that veterans’ dental records are maintained in VA’s electronic health records system, which is important to maintaining overall health.
In 2018, Congress passed the Veterans Benefits and Transitions Act, which required VA to report to Congress on the feasibility and advisability of expanding VA dental care benefits to all veterans. In the report, which was issued in December 2019, VA noted that:
“It is expected that the provision of dental services could result in some reduction in total health care cost. As presented by the Mayo Clinic in 2019, poor oral health can have a significant negative effect on overall health. Neglecting oral health can contribute to health problems including bacterial pneumonia, cardiovascular disease, and oral cancer. Improving oral health is therefore expected to decrease the cost of treating medical conditions worsened by poor oral health.”
Despite the conclusion reached by VA in its own report, during the hearing, VA officials testified that the Administration opposes Brownley’s legislation to expand dental care.
“When we send our young men and women to war, we rarely ask how we are going to pay for it, so it is frustrating to me that when they come home, we constantly hear the refrain that veterans’ healthcare costs too much. In this case, it’s even more frustrating because this essential care would reduce overall healthcare costs while improving overall veteran health, leaving VAs stated reason for opposing this important legislation all the more baffling and disappointing.”