Dental resources for veterans.

Medically Reviewed by a
Licensed DDS

Table of Contents

  1. VA Benefits
  2. Eligibility
  3. Getting Care
  4. Other VA Options
  5. Private Insurance
  6. No Insurance
  7. No Shortage of Options
  8. References

Veterans put their lives on the line to protect and serve their country. When they get home, they're entitled to health care through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Unfortunately, that coverage doesn't always extend to dental health.

Private dental insurance plans for veterans exist, and they can be good choices for veterans who need coverage. Some veterans also shop for deals via the health care marketplace.

If you're not eligible for VA benefits, and you can't afford a private plan, you still have options. Nonprofit organizations, dental experts, and some companies offer discounts or waived fees on the services you need.

How do VA benefits work?

When you leave the service, advisors should help you enroll in VA programs to maintain your health. Finish that step, and you may believe you're entitled to full care to keep your teeth shining bright. Unfortunately, that's not always the case.

Are you eligible?

During 2019, more than 580,000 veterans got dental care assistance through the VA. Experts often suggest that people with coverage fall into three simple categories:

  • Service-connected dental disability
  • Former prisoner of war
  • Recipient of service-connected disability compensation

The reality is a little more complex.

The VA has long and strict rules about who is eligible for benefits and who is not. For example:

Persian Gulf War Veterans
People with Service-Connected Disabilities
Veterans with Trauma
The organization offers one-time dental care for some people who served for 90 or more days in the Persian Gulf War. But people who didn't apply within 180 days of discharge aren't eligible.
People deemed 100 percent disabled are eligible for full dental coverage. However, if that disability is due to a temporary condition, the coverage no longer applies.
If your disability is due to service wounds or trauma, you're only eligible to get enough care to provide a working set of teeth.

Parsing the rules and regulations is difficult. You may not have all the answers you need.

Let officials do the work, and enroll through the VA website. Answer questions about your health and your service. When your application is processed, you'll know exactly what you qualify for.

Where do you get care?

You've been approved for care through the VA. You're issued paperwork, and you're ready to get started. But you can't go just anywhere to improve your smile.

The VA controls costs by location. To use your benefits, you must go to one of the more than 200 VA-owned dental clinics across the United States. Most require appointments, and it's not uncommon to wait a week or two for help.

Other VA options available.

Only about 8 percent of veterans are eligible for meaningful coverage through the VA, reporters say. If you fill out paperwork and see a rejection slip, you're not alone. But you're not out of options either.

Each year, the VA chooses private companies for an affiliated health insurance program. Enrollees get a discount on premiums, even if they're not eligible for full VA dental health benefits. Through a plan like this, you'll have coverage for:

  • Dental surgery.
  • Diagnostic services.
  • Emergency care.
  • Endodontic and other restorative services.
  • Preventative care.

If you’re enrolled in VA health care, you’re eligible for this program.

Whether you have dental coverage through the VA, a private dental insurance plan, or no insurance coverage at all, as a veteran, you should be able to get the dental services you need.

Private insurance options.

Veterans rarely use private medical insurance. In fact, researchers say just 56.9 percent of veterans had private insurance in 2016. That's a dip from 70.8 percent in 2000. But for veterans ineligible for VA dental care, the private market offers the best dental health solutions.

Two companies provide VA-approved dental insurance for veterans in 2020.

Dental Dental
Met Life

Coverage extends across the United States. You must work with a dentist affiliated with the Delta Dental plan, but the network is large.

Choose from one of three plans with varying coverage levels. All cover preventive care at 100 percent, if you use a network doctor. But some don't cover things like crowns or dentures. Confirm the specifics of the plan will work for most of your dental needs.

Coverage extends across the United States, and more than 458,000 dentists participate in the Met Life program.

Choose from two plan types. One doesn't cover orthodontia at all, and the other pays 50 percent of the cost. Preventive care is fully covered in both plans. Again, confirm that the plan works to offset most of your dental costs before signing up.

Enrollment is a snap. Choose a company, pick a plan, and sign up online. But some veterans can't complete these steps.

If you're ineligible for health care benefits through the VA, you can't participate in these dental insurance options. But plenty of other companies want to help you.

USAA works with Cigna Dental on a plan made just for veterans. You won't wait to use your benefits, and you can see any provider within the Cigna network. Rates are pre-negotiated, so Cigna saves money. Visit a provider outside of the network, and you're likely to pay more. You must be a USAA member to enroll in this program. Do that online.

Some veterans are ineligible for the VA or USAA. They still have options.

The health insurance marketplace is made for browsing. Give information about your age, health, and habits. You'll see a list of companies ready to offer you dental insurance. If you qualify, you might get a discount on monthly premiums based on your income level.

Marketplace plans aren't geared to veterans. Anyone can enroll. But the prices might fit within your budget quite nicely.

What if you don't have insurance?

For some veterans, making ends meet seems impossible. They just don't have the money to spend on a monthly health insurance premium, and yet, they don't qualify for VA benefits.

If these statements apply to you, don't despair. You still have options.

Here are some low-cost or no-cost dental solutions for veterans:

Aspen Dental
Since 2014, the Healthy Mouth Movement has given free care to more than 27,000 veterans and others in need. Teams travel across the country in a 42-foot mobile dental office. Appointments are required.
Donated Dental Services
This program from Dental Lifeline Network includes more than 15,000 volunteer dentists and 3,400 labs. Permanent disabilities, advanced age, or medical ailments qualify you.
Everyone for Veterans
More than 400 veterans in about 15 states have received free treatment through this nonprofit. Leaders connect veterans with volunteer dentists that offer treatment at no cost. Most volunteers are in the state of Washington.
Dentists for Veterans
Since 2011, about $500,000 in dental services was donated to veterans in need. Eligibility requirements are somewhat vague, so it's hard to tell who might qualify. But an email starts the process.

Your local dentist may also offer discounts for veterans. You may never see the program in an advertisement or flyer, but it might exist.

Major companies, including those that offer aligners for a straighter smile, advertise their discounts on their websites. Ask about those programs before your appointment, so there's no misunderstanding when the bill arrives.

No shortage of options.

These dental resources for veterans are intended to broadly cover the dental services that veterans need.

References.

VA Dentistry—Improving Veterans' Oral Health. (March 2020). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Dental Care. Benefits.gov.

VA Dental Care. (June 2019). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Apply for Health Care Benefits. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Find a Dental Clinic Location. (January 2020). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

All Veterans Would Get Dental Care Help Under this Proposed Plan. (December 2019). Military.com.

VA Dental Insurance Program. (October 2018). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

VA Dental Insurance Program (VADIP). (August 2018). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Trends in Health Insurance and Type Among Military Veterans: United States, 2000-2016. (March 2018). American Journal of Public Health.

Veterans Affairs Dental Insurance Program. Delta Dental.

Veterans Affairs Dental Insurance (VADIP) Plan Benefits Booklet. (2019). Delta Dental.

Veterans Affairs Dental Insurance Program (VADIP). MetLife.

Dental Plan Summary. (2020). MetLife.

USAA Has Teamed Up with Cigna Dental. USAA.

Join USAA. USAA.

Health Care Coverage Options for Military Veterans. HealthCare.gov.

AspenDental Healthy Mouth Movement. AspenDental.

Donated Dental Services (DDS) Provides Dental Care for Vietnam Veteran. Dental Life Network.

Program to Help Combat Veterans Receive Free Care Expanding Throughout Nation. (March 2019). American Dental Association.

About Us. Dentists for Veterans.

Veteran Sign Up. Dentists for Veterans.

All Veterans Would Get Dental Care Help Under This Proposed Plan. (December 2019). Military.

Trump Signs Bill to Expand VA Dental Care Coverage for Veterans. (March 2020). Connecting Vets.

What Veterans Should Know About VA Dental Care Benefits. (November 2019). The Doctor Weighs In.

Disclaimer: This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to serve as dental or other professional health advice and is not intended to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any condition or symptom. You should consult a dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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