A few months ago I made a case for finding a national solution to the limitations on veterans’ dental benefits. Rules for who receives treatment through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Outpatient Dental Program are overly restrictive. Only an Act of Congress can broaden those rules to include more veterans with dental issues associated with, and aggravated by, service-connected medical conditions. Our veterans need better access to dental benefits for a variety of reasons, one of the most compelling of which is that untreated dental disease undermines overall health and wellness.
Recently the VA announced that it had submitted to Congress a waiver request and pilot program to increase access to dental care. Called the MISSION Act, the purpose of Section 152 of the VA Maintaining Internal Systems and Strengthening Integrated Outside Networks Act of 2018 is to authorize testing innovative service delivery models to improve the quality of dental care for our veterans.
The VA itself has limited authority to provide dental services for veterans under the existing statute; but, with this waiver request, the VA increases access to those services through connections to community-based, pro bono, or discounted dental services providers. The VA will test both payment and service delivery models. Upon approval of the pilot, the VA will work with such groups as the American Dental Association and Federally Qualified Health Centers nationwide, serving veterans who have previously been ineligible for dental services. The VA accepted comments on this new program through January 13.
The announcement from the VA’s Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs said that “The dental care proposal, titled the Care Coordination for Dental Benefits demonstration project under the Community Provider Collaborations for Veterans Pilot Program, is the first waiver request and pilot program submitted to Congress under this authority”. The VA will publish details of the pilot program for public comment in The Federal Register, the Daily Journal of the United States Government.
I commend all supporters of this pilot program to increase access to dental benefits to more veterans and all of the service providers who will play an invaluable role in its success.