June 15, 2023

Wyden, Merkley, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Establish Dental Care Pilot Program for Veterans with Chronic Health Conditions

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley said today they and Senate colleagues have introduced legislation that would establish a new pilot program to provide comprehensive dental care to veterans in Oregon and nationwide diagnosed with diabetes and coronary artery disease.

Funded for four years, the program would also study the health outcomes and cost effectiveness of such care, as well as provide loan reimbursement opportunities for qualified dental care professionals who agree to serve for the duration of the pilot at a VA dental clinic deemed high need.

“Quality comprehensive dental care to veterans in Oregon and nationwide is a crucial and earned benefit,” Wyden said. “Any good dentist will tell you that poor dental hygiene can lead to diabetes and heart disease, which is why access to quality affordable care is critical. I’ll always fight tooth and nail to get veterans the care they deserve.”

“We cannot fully address veterans’ health care by leaving out dental services – Congress must ensure the VA has the resources necessary to reach all of our veterans no matter the services they require,” Merkley said. “This bill is a critical step in ensuring the VA can recruit top flight dental professionals so our veterans have the accessible and quality health care services that they have earned.”

Poor dental hygiene is directly linked to other chronic health care conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. According to the American Diabetes Association, diabetes triples the risk of getting periodontal disease, a severe gum infection that can lead to tooth loss, bone loss, and other serious health complications. A person with diabetes and periodontal disease is also three times more likely to develop a fatal combination of coronary artery disease and diabetic nephropathy. Another study has found that people with periodontitis, or gum disease, have a greater risk of experiencing a major cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke.

However, out of the 9.2 million veterans enrolled in VA health care, only 1.4 million – barely 15 percent – are eligible for comprehensive dental care. According to the VA, in 2020, more than 3 million veterans with diabetes and heart disease went without access to affordable, comprehensive dental care, increasing their exposure to the fatal risks associated with these chronic health conditions.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., introduced the legislation. Alongside Wyden and Merkley the bill was cosponsored by U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., John Fetterman, D-Pa., Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Peter Welch, D-Vt., and Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.

The Improving Whole Health for Veterans with Chronic Conditions Act is endorsed by American Institute of Dental Public Health, American Dental Hygienists' Association, American Heart Association, Association of State and Territorial Dental Directors, Care in Action , CareQuest Institute for Oral Health, Common Defense, Disabled American Veterans, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Minority Veterans of America, National Domestic Workers Alliance, Paralyzed Veterans of America, National Council on Aging, Public Citizen, Save our VA, SMART Recovery, Social Security Works, and Veterans of Foreign Wars.

The text of the bill is here.