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Call Collett: VA letter restricts docts from discussing veteran health options

Gary Long spent his entire career serving our country through the Army.

“I wanted to be GI Joe,” he told News 2’s Rebecca Collett.

After 21 years in the service, he retired and is raising his young children. He also started focusing on his health.

“They started really deteriorating about 10 years ago,” he explained of his widespread dental problems.

The VA referred him to a private dentist. The dental assessment revealed he needed all new teeth.

“I wanted a non-biased opinion, so I paid for it myself,” Long explained of his assessment. 

The dentist told him implants would be his best option, but there was a problem.  On the referral from the VA, the dentist was instructed not to offer or discuss implants with VA patients.  Long was stunned.

“For him to get a different copy of the same referral is just very underhanded,” Long said.

And that’s why Gary called Collett.  When we started our investigation, we learned in the last five years, the VA sent 7,354 referrals to community providers. The letters barring doctors from discussing certain options went to countless dentists.   When we asked Dr. Florence Hutchison, the VA’s Chief of Staff, she said she didn’t know how many letters were sent.  She told News 2 the goal of the letter was to coordinate care between the VA and community providers tasked with assessing veteran patients.

Essentially, if the VA isn’t going to pay for the implants, they don’t want doctors discussing that option at all.  The letters aren’t being sent any more.

“We decided it was a little too brusque,” Dr. Hutchison explained when asked about why the letters aren’t sent anymore.

In the last five years the VA approved 110 patients for implants.  The VA views implants as cosmetic and not generally necessary.  Instead, patients are more often treated with less expensive dentures.

“A lot of dentists will advise patients that don’t clinically need them for their health, to go with implants,” Dr. Hutchison explained.

The VA has strict rules about who they will pre-qualify for implants. In Long’s case the VA says he must quit smoking.  He also has a dental infection that needs treatment.  Not getting the implants isn’t as frustrating as knowing the dentist approved to assess his needs couldn’t offer all his options for care.

The letters restricting dentists from discussing certain options were stopped in February, according to the VA.

The VA has a board that reviews cases for implants.  Veterans are also able to appeal decisions to regional boards.

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