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Bill to fund dental care for low-income veterans advances in legislature

Lawmakers are returning to the state capitol, seem here at a Veterans Day ceremony, for a Dec. 13 special session.
Chris M Lehman
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Oregon lawmakers are advancing a bill to provide dental care to low-income veterans. File photo from Veterans Day event at Oregon Capitol in 2021.

Oregon lawmakers are advancing a bill that would create a new program to provide dental care to low-income veterans.

Supporters say it’s needed because the US Veterans Administration only covers oral health benefits for a relatively small percentage of vets.

Rep. Duane Stark, R-Grants Pass, said while he supports House Bill 4095, he thinks it shouldn’t be the state’s responsibility to provide the coverage.

“Taking care of our veterans, we absolutely need to do that. And I really feel like the federal government should be the primary one doing that," he said. "And so I wonder, anytime the state picks up the slack for the federal government, are we ever going to be able to shift that back to them?”

The measure is on the move in the legislature’s budget committee. But the Oregon Health Authority, which would administer the program, says it’s not sure how many veterans in the state would qualify. As such, the agency says it can’t provide an estimate for how much it would cost.

Rep. Cedric Hayden, R-Fall Creek, estimated it would cost between $300 and $400 per eligible veteran per year.

"It's a low-expense benefit that makes a huge impact," said Hayden, who is also a dentist.

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December, 2018. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”