WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-N.J.), today joined Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) in introducing legislation that will expand and improve dental care for veterans. The Veterans Dental Care Eligibility Expansion and Enhancement Act of 2021 will ensure universal dental care coverage for all veterans through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA).

"Our veterans have served our country with honor and dignity, and yet millions are locked out of critical VA benefits such as dental care due to strict eligibility restrictions at the agency,” said Sen. Menendez. “Veterans in New Jersey and across the country deserve to have access to the resources and benefits they need to live healthy and productive lives after their military service, and that’s why I am proud to be supporting this important piece of legislation that will expand access to dental care for millions of veterans and support them in maintaining good dental hygiene and overall health.”

“Dental care is health care, however, due to current VA eligibility restrictions, the vast majority of America’s veterans are prevented from accessing this benefit – making it critical that we expand coverage,” said Sen. Booker. “This important legislation would eliminate current restrictions to ensure that the VA has the necessary staff and facilities in all states to provide dental care to veterans. We owe our veterans a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid, and this legislation is a necessary step forward in honoring their service and sacrifice.”

The VA has reported that out of the 9.2 million veterans enrolled in VA health care, only about 1.4 million are eligible for comprehensive dental care. However, in 2020, VA dental services managed the care of only 402,000 eligible veterans as well as an additional 61,000 due to medical necessity. Only 80,000 purchased dental insurance through the VA Dental Insurance Program and in 2020, the decrease in veteran enrollment and compensation and pension exams due to the pandemic created an estimated backlog of 2.5 million dental procedures.

The Veterans Dental Care Eligibility Expansion and Enhancement Act of 2021 will eliminate the current eligibility restrictions for VA dental care and expand eligibility to all veterans receiving VA health care. It will also work to address the shortage of dentists in the U.S. by incentivizing dental school enrollment and service to our nation's veterans, and ensure the VA maintains dental clinics in all states to meet the needs of veterans from all parts of the country.

Poor dental hygiene is directly linked to other chronic health care conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, upper respiratory disease, dementia, and diabetes, leading to increased overall health care costs. In 2016, Avalere estimated that if Medicare covered initial and ongoing gum disease treatment for beneficiaries with diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, it would save Medicare $63.5 billion over a decade. Each $1 of new spending from dental coverage saved approximately $10 in Medicare costs, primarily from reduced hospitalizations and emergency room visits.

The Veterans Dental Care Eligibility Expansion and Enhancement Act would ensure the VA educates veterans on their eligibility for dental care and the importance of dental hygiene for an individual's overall health; improve veterans' overall physical health; and provide a reduction in long-term taxpayer spending on VA health care.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) are also cosponsors of the bill.

The bill is supported by The American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE), The American Heart Association, The American Legion, AMVETS, The Coalition of Veteran Organizations (CVO), Common Defense, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), Justice in Aging, Military Officers Association of America (MOAA), Modern Military Association of America (MMAA), Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), and VoteVets.