Before having extensive dental work, Kirby Carlson would cover his mouth when he talked to hide his teeth.
The 40-year-old Persian Gulf War veteran of Springfield has since found his confidence and is in pursuit of a new job, as he is currently unemployed. He says he is very grateful for the dental care he received, but he isn’t convinced that very many veterans are aware of the free medical care and services available to them through the Veterans Assistance Commission (VAC).
Carlson spoke to Illinois Times last spring before he had his dental work [see “State grant helps vets find quality dental care,” April 28]. Now that the main work is complete, he is eager to tell others of his experience.
“There’s a lot of need for dental care for veterans who are worse off than me,” Carlson says.
Carlson received coverage for his dental care through a state grant awarded to the Veterans Assistance Commission of Sangamon County (SCVAC), but Carlson says he thinks veterans should also be more aware of the medical coverage available to them.
There’s a common misconception that there will be a lot of paperwork involved when applying for care, but he says the process really is simple.
Amber Burke, a clerk at the Veterans Affairs Commission of Sangamon County, says the SCVAC provides emergency relief assistance for rent and utilities and also provides food vouchers. Veterans can apply for up to $400 for rent, up to $150 for utilities and up to $100 for food vouchers once each year, she says.
The SCVAC also provides transportation for medical appointments to Danville, Peoria and even St. Louis on occasion, she says. Assistance is available to veterans who qualify.
Although she says many veterans know of the available assistance, more promotion would be beneficial.
The funds provided by the VAC for medical care are only designated for use for veterans, Carlson says, so veterans aren’t putting a burden on anyone financially.
For Carlson, there was a lot of dental work to be done. He had a tooth infection and needed partial tooth implants, according to his dentist, Dr. Brett Spalding, DMD at Montvale Dental Center.
“Smiling became very hard for me,” Carlson says. “I just didn’t do it.”
Spalding says Carlson was in a lot of pain because of his teeth. The dental work Carlson had was effective in preventing even more severe problems like gum disease in the future, as long as he maintains healthy oral hygiene.
“It’s not often, being a dentist, you get people thanking you,” Spalding says. “It’s nice every once in a while that you can have that impact on somebody.”
He says the grant was effective in providing Carlson with the care he needed, but his office does see a lot of patients who have to delay care because they do not have health insurance. He says his office will work with those patients to provide as much care as possible.
Fortunately for Carlson, all of his dental work expenses were covered by the state grant, so he didn’t have to pay out of pocket like he had previously been doing. And in addition to his improved condition, that’s given Carlson even more reason to smile.
“I feel really lucky to have health care from the VA,” Carlson says. “Otherwise I don’t know what I’d do.”
Contact Hannah Douglas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illinois veterans can find out what care or assistance they qualify for by calling the Veterans Assistance Clinic at 217-753-6680 or by calling 1-800-320-8387.