People with questions about enrollment in the Oregon Veteran Dental Program can call the local Northeast Oregon Network (NEON) office at 541-398-2539 or the Wallowa Veterans Services office at 541-426-0539.
ENTERPRISE - A new Oregon program offering dental insurance for veterans launched last month - and state officials say they have funding to serve about 10 times more veterans than have enrolled so far.
They are encouraging veterans to contact their county or tribal Veterans Service Office to submit an application.
The program, known as the Oregon Veteran Dental Program, covers the same basic dental care that the state provides to Medicaid recipients through the Oregon Health Plan.
Annual teeth cleanings, fillings, extractions, dentures and emergency care are among the services available for free under the state's veteran dental plan. However, it does not cover more complex treatments such as bridges.
Vixen Bradford-Rex, the outreach and community enrollment specialist for Northeast Oregon Network (NEON), 209 Highway 82 in Enterprise, said every veteran in Wallowa County should know about this service.
"This is a limited pool, it is first-come, first-serve, they only have so much funding for this, so they are knitting the number of veterans that can apply. If that number gets filled, they will be put on a waiting list. It's really important that all of our veterans in Wallow County reach out to us and get signed up."
Theodore Thorne, veterans services officer for Wallowa Veterans Services, 401 NE First St. in Enterprise, also stressed the importance of letting veterans know about this service.
"All the studies show dental health improves mental and physical health; they are all closely tied together," Thorne said.
"It's very important for Oregon veterans because if they are at 138% of the poverty line, then they don't qualify for the OHP (Oregon Health Plan), but with this plan they can be up to 400% of the poverty line," he said.
The program is intended for veterans who earn too much to qualify for full Medicaid benefits, but who still struggle to afford the out-of-pocket costs of dental care.
A veteran can make up to about $54,000 a year for an individual or up to $111,000 for a veteran in a family of four and qualify for the new plan.
Most veterans don't qualify for Veterans Affairs dental coverage because it's only provided to 100% disabled veterans, or if their disability is orally related. Nationwide, only around 15% of veterans qualify for dental benefits through the Veterans' Administration. Oregon health officials hope the new state program will cover many more veterans.
The Legislature provided seed funding for the program - $1 million in lottery proceeds in the 2022 session. The Oregon Health Authorities estimates that is enough to provide coverage to roughly 2,500 veterans. So far, just over 200 people have enrolled in the program since the state began taking applications in November.
Thorne and Bradford-Wecks are working to get the word out about the program.
"To know that a person can have an income and still qualify for this is amazing, Thorne said. "When I found out this is limited, I knew we needed to get this out to the public. We're looking at 600-1,200 veterans in Wallowa County and we know that not all of them are connected to the resources that are available. Getting this information out to even just one veteran could really get the message out." Thorne said.
Added Bradford-Wecks: "I feel that one thing we really do well here in Wallowa County, is working together with community partners to help spread awareness of what is out there to help people in need of services they might not know about."
Anyone with questions about enrollment should call the local Northeast Oregon Network (NEON) office at 541-398-2539 or the Wallowa Veterans Services office at 541-426-0539.