What exactly is the VA Dental Insurance Program?

Veterans without dental care could be eligible for discounted private insurance

While most people are familiar with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, not everyone knows about the specific services the VA offers, from delivering naloxone prescriptions to housing homeless veterans. One particular program, the VA Dental Insurance Program, has arguably flown under the radar over the years — but the VA wants to change that. 

Some veterans are eligible for VA health care and receive free dental care, but many do not, which has led to a perception that the VA does not provide significant dental benefits to veterans. However, the VA Dental Insurance Program can assist those ineligible or only partially eligible for free VA dental care with purchasing private dental insurance at a reduced cost. 

Scott Trapp, D.D.S., VA deputy director for dentistry, said that the hope is to spread awareness about the VA Dental Insurance Program and help veterans understand the full list of options when it comes to taking charge of their oral health. 

“We want veterans to know about it. We want veterans to know that there are options,” Dr. Trapp said. “Veterans have worked hard all their lives, and this is an option for them to get that dental benefit.” 

The VA Dental Insurance Program provides discounted private dental insurance for eligible veterans and their families. Someone might qualify if they are a veteran who is enrolled in VA health care or if they are the current spouse or dependent child of a veteran or service member who is enrolled in the Civilian Health and Medical Program of the VA. 

The VA Dental Insurance Program plans cover common dental procedures such as diagnostic services, preventive dental care, root canals, dental surgery and emergency dental care. The coverage costs will depend on what insurance company and plan the beneficiary selects. 

The program is administered by Delta Dental and MetLife. Delta Dental offers three options: the enhanced plan, which is best for routine dental care, the comprehensive plan, which is best for those needing additional dental work, and the prime plan, which is best for those needing maximum coverage on major procedures. MetLife provides a standard option, which includes no cost for in-network cleanings, X-rays and exams, and a high option, which provides the former as well as additional protection from unforeseen dental costs. 

Visit the Delta Dental and MetLife websites to learn more about dental plan benefit options.

According to Dr. Trapp, these programs offer a similar level of benefits offered to federal employees and members of Congress. 

Originally established as a pilot program by the Caregivers and Veterans Omnibus Health Services Act of 2012, the VA Dental Insurance Program initially examined whether offering a premium-based dental insurance program was feasible. The pilot ran from Jan. 1, 2014, to Jan. 31, 2017, and passage of the VA Dental Insurance Reauthorization Act of 2016 allowed the VA Dental Insurance Program to continue until Dec. 31, 2021. In September 2021, the Department of Veterans Affairs Expiring Authorities Act of 2021 became law, making the VA Dental Insurance Program permanent for eligible veterans and dependents. 

“The VA recognized a need to help veterans to make sure they had access to dental care, so this option was explored,” Dr. Trapp said.   

Essentially, it’s a way to provide affordable oral health care to veterans who might not otherwise have access to it. Receiving VA dental care benefits hinges on many factors, such as military service history, current health status and living situation. Generally, veterans must either have a dental issue that is service-connected or be based on criteria like being a former prisoner of war or having a total disability. 

Even though many veterans do not qualify for comprehensive VA dental care, Dr. Trapp emphasized that the VA is eager and willing to work with all veterans to give them the care they need. He said the VA health care system is unlike traditional indemnity insurance plans or federally qualified health centers, because it’s geared specifically toward each veteran’s individual needs. 

“It’s a customized approach based upon the individual veteran’s health care needs. And we can provide that specialized approach based upon their medical problems [or] their oral problems,” Dr. Trapp said. “We deal with veterans that have very unique problems, and we’re specialized on how to handle those problems. That’s what makes our system very unique.”

For more information about the VA Dental Insurance Program, visit the VA’s dental care webpage.

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