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Sanders’ Dental Dilemma

By Justin Straughan, VHPI Policy Researcher

Senator Bernie Sanders recently introduced two pieces of overlapping legislation that would positively boost the federal safety net for American veterans in need of dental work.

The first is a bill that would provide veterans with access to dental care through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The second would classify veterans as “low-income families” for the explicit purpose of expanding their eligibility for state benefits. Sanders’ package would also, quite critically, address our nationwide shortage of dentists by working to get more veterans into the field, and also by pushing the VA to establish dental clinics in every single state.

“If a country is worth anything, it’s in how we treat the people who put their lives on the line to defend us,”Sanders said in a statement after introducing the legislation.

It’s fantastic that Sanders wants to expand dental coverage through the VA. As a veteran who has had to fight to get temporary dental coverage, I can relate to the current dental struggles for those who served. The requirements for care today are obtuse and require lots of paperwork and time. Thanks to these stringent and exclusive requirements, only one in nine veterans today receive federal dental benefits.

Despite the importance of these proposals, I worry that Sanders’ efforts won’t lead to change. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has gone on record insisting he wants to intentionally preserve gridlock in the Senate to upset Democrats’ chances in the 2022 midterms. Moreover, no Republicans have backed these commonsense proposals, while Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema seem all too happy to dissent from the party’s agenda. Do veterans, or any population for that matter, have a shot in the dark chance of improvements to their healthcare in a political climate where politicians ignore constituent pressures?

Furthermore, if this legislation is a net-positive for veterans and something that the average

layperson would support, why is it only veterans that deserve access to dental care? What about the spouses and children of veterans? Or civilians, for that matter? Why is the healthcare for some more important than others?

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