The Kaufman Fund, Dental Lifeline Network • Missouri and the Donated Dental Services (DDS) program launched a pilot program that aims to connect veterans with much-needed and often life-saving dental care. The group is made up of representatives from The Kaufman Fund, volunteer dentists, dental school faculty, and DLN in order to help veterans who are disabled, elderly, or medically fragile and with serious dental problems.
Richard, 64, is one of the first veterans to receive help from The Kaufman Fund. Richard joined the Navy at 17 and served our country for two tours in Vietnam. He spent his eighteenth birthday overseas, bravely standing beside his brothers in uniform, many of whom he’d lose before his service ended.
When Richard returned, he suffered from severe post-traumatic stress disorder. For the next 30 years, he battled PTSD, could not retain employment, and was left homeless for a period of time. Richard’s oral health, as well as his general wellbeing, fell to the wayside until he entered rehabilitation through Combat Veterans Court.
Fortunately, the 18 month-long program, which includes therapy, judicial oversight, and social services, helped Richard get his life back on track. He then moved to Missouri to begin work as a veteran service manager at Missouri Veterans Endeavor (MOVE-STL), an independent non-profit focused on housing for veterans and their families.
At MOVE-STL, where Richard has now worked for over five years, he is able to give back in the same way he received help. He holds peer support groups, transfers veterans’ children to and from school, helps veterans to food pantries, and also represents the nonprofit in presentations to other nonprofits and possible benefactors.
Because of the public relations work he does for his organization, he knew he would need to restore his oral health. “First impressions mean a lot and a smile is the first thing people notice,” Richard said. His presentation wasn’t the only motivation to get treatment, however. Because of the periodontal disease he developed over the past decades, he also began experiencing trouble eating. Richard’s 40-year-old crown was breaking apart and several missing molars left him unable to chew.
While he does hold a job and receives healthcare through Veterans Affairs, Richard still did not have enough money to afford the dental bridge he needed. He knew Wayne Kaufman, founder and board member of the Kaufman Fund, through his work at MOVE-STL, and Kaufman referred Richard to The Kaufman Fund and DDS. After his case was accepted, volunteer dentist Dr. Douglas Watanabe stepped in to donate his time and services to Richard.
“At first,” Richard said, “I was concerned about the bridge, but Dr. Watanabe felt there was some treatment needed before he could do that. Over the course of two days, Dr. Watanabe did some intense scaling and planing, whitening and bonding, so that I’d have a solid foundation for whatever came next.” When Richard heals from this treatment, he’s expected to receive more bonding, dental implants, and a bridge.
“So far, it’s made an amazing impact. I didn’t know if I’d get help and if I hadn’t, the periodontal disease would’ve progressed. Words can’t express the gratitude I have. What these dentists are doing is remarkable and it’s making a huge difference in veterans’ lives. It is a life changing experience.” – Richard
“Richard is very appreciative. If other dentists took part in DDS, a bigger group could then be served. Sacrifice and service is a lesson for all to learn.” – Dr. Watanabe