LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A local resident and dental professional is dedicating her time, abilities and resources with the Chestnut Street YMCA Transitional Housing program to help spring board veterans out of homelessness and into working citizens.
Dr. Sarah Foard-Johnson, a prosthodontist, who has numerous veterans in her family, was contacted by the local YMCA when homeless veterans needed dental care.
Military veterans face challenges daily, including homelessness, lack of job training and limited access to proper dental care, which can lead to self-esteem issues, social anxiety and depression.
Many VA hospitals or clinics may not have sufficient dental services or any at all. People like Johnson who have identified a need that is not being met, are stepping up and doing what is needed for the veterans.
“Originally my goals were to help these veterans get treated and I was beyond appalled that they were not getting any treatment,” explained Johnson.
People are seeing a difference in the veterans of the Chestnut YMCA Transition Housing program. Leah Mullaney, a social worker at the YMCA who initially contacted Johnson, has seen firsthand what this type of service can provide a veteran.
Of the four veterans helped to date, three of them have jobs and one has his own apartment. Mullaney attributes these changes to the selfless dedication Johnson provides when helping these veterans with their dental hygiene and care.
“Because of Sarah’s generosity and caring heart, she has positively changed the lives of four people who will never be able to fully express how thankful they are that she came into their lives,” said Mullaney.
Veterans like John Fegenbush and Bryant Wheeler have seen drastic changes in their lives since getting dental work by Johnson.
“Since receiving the dental work I feel more comfortable around others. Dr. Johnson has really given me back my confidence and self-esteem.,” said Fegenbush. “I really appreciate Dr. Johnson, the person. She treated me like a real person or rather that I was as good as anyone else She spoke to me like she had known me all of her life.”
According to Bryant Wheeler, he states that Dr. Johnson is a godsend. People, his family, grandchildren future employers all viewed him differently without teeth. He also had major health issues because he could not chew food and it was severely affecting his health. Everyday he wakes up he is thankful for the care Dr. Johnson provided for him.
Unlike Fegenbush, many veterans aren’t able to get into a dentist’s office or even to a VA clinic. They aren’t the only ones seeing a challenge in this battle. Johnson reached out to the VA with no avail and began feeling concerned she couldn’t reach people she knew inside the VA.
“I tried to get in touch with my contacts at the VA, because I have prosthodontist friends who work there, but I got nowhere as well,” said Johnson. “I was additionally concerned that the VA would approve extracting someone’s teeth, then send them on their way and say they are on their own.”
People like Jerry Gaulbert, who spent over 17 years working in the dental laboratory for the VA, identifies some of the biggest challenges veterans face regarding dental work.
“The bureaucratic red tape of the VA presents a tough challenge to many veterans seeking access to proper dental care. The VA will sometimes remove problem teeth, however they generally will not provide prosthetic replacements unless the problem is a direct result from service,” said Jerry Gaulbert, a certified dental technician with over 40 years of experience in the field. “The loss of teeth can be debilitating, however it is not classified as a disability by the VA, which prevents veterans from receiving the care they desperately need.”
This isn’t a one-time thing for Johnson. She is working towards creating a foundation to continue the treatment of veterans and all those in need. As a professional who provides rehabilitative dentistry, she understands how to approach and provide dental care for those in need. Johnson is looking for other clinicians, donors and all other volunteers who can help grow this outreach.
“These projects have grown into more than I had originally planned, but I now see there definitely is a need for so much more help. It has brought tears to my eyes to see the gratitude and difference I have made in all of their lives, I am happy to be able to make their lives better,” said Johnson.
According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development says nearly 40,000 veterans are homeless on any given night, they also identify there are approximately 1.4 million veterans who are considered at risk of homelessness. Additionally, for veterans to receive full dental benefits, the veteran must be 100 percent disabled or have developed a dental condition during their service.
For more information on which veterans are eligible to receive dental care, please visit http://www.va.gov/dental/.