Veterans’ Day wasn’t the only reason U.S. Army vet Kenny Williams had a smile on his face Monday.
“It has been a match made in heaven,” the Rock Island resident said Monday, while sitting in a dental chair at the University of Iowa College of Dentistry.
His appointment with a student there was just getting started as part of a program connecting veterans with dentists offering free services. Williams joined the program in June.
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Everyone for Veterans, a Washington-based nonprofit organization, connects low income veterans who were deployed to combat areas with aspiring dental professionals, said Dr. Richard Williamson, a UI clinical associate professor. Since he brought the program to the college about a year ago, students have helped six veterans including Williams.
“It’s a win-win,” Williamson said, because the veterans get good care, the students get clinical experience and they develop a relationship.
He said he sought out a way to help veterans after seeing what his son went through after serving in Iraq. In addition to the social struggles of reintegrating back into society, he said finding jobs is a major obstacle for veterans.
“The barrier is money,” he said, specifically when it comes to access for veterans to dental care. “It’s the barrier for most people.”
But for the program to have the greatest effect, more dentists need to be part of the program so veterans can conveniently travel to an office.
“A lot of times you can’t get transportation,” Williams said. “I don’t have a car.”
Williams, who served as an infantryman in Panama in 1989, starts his trek from Rock Island to make his 9 a.m. Iowa City appointment on time around 12:15 a.m.
“There’s no sacrifice I won’t make to make sure I’m here,” he said.
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Williams walks about three miles to the downtown Davenport transportation center, gets on the bus to Iowa City and walks from downtown to the Veterans Affairs facility where he waits until his dentist appointment.
Madeline Stead, a 4th-year dental student, sat next to Williams as he told his story. She’s been there since day one for his visits, cleaning his teeth, placing crowns and helping fix his partial denture.
Williams said one of the partial’s teeth had broken and he was using glue to put it together each time it broke.
“I couldn’t eat properly because when I would bite something, that tooth would break off and then I would take it again and use the crazy glue,” he said.
Williams told Stead about that tooth on his first visit and she fixed it.
“It’s just been amazing to be able to eat something and not have to think about that tooth breaking,” he said. “That alone has changed my life.”
Stead said everyone needs dental care.
“But not everyone can afford it or they don’t know where to seek it out,” she said.
Williams said that prior to the program, he had sought dental services from private dentists and it was a struggle sometimes because of a lack of resources.
“If I have to swim across the river, you know, just hypothetically,” he said laughing. “I’m gonna get across that river.”
Reach Hillary Ojeda at 319-339-7345, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @hillarymojeda