NORMAL — About 1,350 veterans statewide will get free dental care from 300 dentists next week through a first-time program that a Normal dentist has helped to organize.
Illinois Dentists Salute — sponsored by the Illinois State Dental Society in cooperation with the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs — is an effort by 300 dentists throughout Illinois to provide 1,350 veterans with one hour each of free dental care on Nov. 10 or 11.
Nov. 11 is Veterans Day.
"Veterans have served our country and protected our freedoms," said Dr. Brad Barnes of Barnes Dental Associates in Normal. Barnes is co-chair of Illinois Dentists Salute with Dr. Loren Feldner, an Orland Park dentist.
But many veterans need better access to dental care, Barnes said. According to the state dental society, veterans don't qualify for government coverage of dental services unless they are disabled, were a prisoner of war or have service-related dental issues.
"We want to honor our veterans for their service to our country," Barnes said. "If they have a dental need, we want to meet it before it affects their health in an adverse way."
Over the years, some dentists such as Barnes provided free dental care for a limited number of veterans on or around Veterans Day. But frequently those efforts were low key and the number of veterans served was small.
Barnes and his dental society colleagues decided to serve more veterans this year and developed a website (www.illinoisdentistssalute.org) for dentists to offer time slots that they would be available to serve veterans without charge on Nov. 10 or 11.
Three hundred dentists, including five in McLean County, volunteered 1,350 one-hour time slots. Then the website was opened to veterans.
Veterans can go to the website and put in their ZIP code to find dentists who have open time slots to see veterans on Nov. 10 or 11. Veterans make their appointment on the website and then go to that dentist's office at that time.
"We didn't want our veterans to stand in line waiting," Barnes said.
As of Tuesday, 250 time slots remained open.
Veterans elect to have a free dental cleaning, extraction or filling. Barnes hopes that veterans would then identify that office as their dental home and return for future dental work.
"Dentists who are participating in the Illinois Dentists Salute initiative are putting their money where their mouths are by providing critically needed dental services to our Illinois heroes," said Erica Jeffries, director of the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs. "We are proud to partner with the Illinois State Dental Society for this special initiative and we thank them for providing this free dental service to our Illinois veterans."
Jeffries encouraged veterans to register for the service. Barnes hopes the initiative becomes an annual event.