Till found a solution for himself that he would like to see more people from his area take advantage of. On Saturday, Nov. 4, he made the trip to Eau Claire for the Chippewa Valley Technical College Dental Clinic’s annual Give Vets a Smile event, which offers free dental care to veterans.
I heard about the program and wanted to see what it’s all about,” said Till, of River Falls, who served from 1994-2015, including two tours of duty in Iraq. “I can’t afford dental insurance and you don’t get dental care with veteran’s benefits unless you’re disabled.”
Approximately 75 veterans were served at the event, which drew veterans from a wide area across western and northern Wisconsin, with most coming from CVTC’s 11-county district.
“We have 13 dentists and about 30 hygienists who are graduates of our program or work with local dentists, plus our Dental Hygienist program students, who all volunteered their time to serve the veterans who served us,” said Pam Entorf, CVTC Dental Hygienist and Dental Assistant program director, who started the program. “And this year, Delta Dental sponsored Give Vets a Smile Day, providing funds for supplies and food for the volunteers.”
“We’re here to show gratitude, and because this is such an unmet need,” said Dr. Slavko Ivankovic, who volunteered along with Dr. Ian Dozier from Oral Surgery Associates in Eau Claire.
“We are doing extractions today. It’s our specialty,” said Dozier.
“I love helping people,” said Teri Myers, hygienist from Fall Creek Dental who volunteered for the day. “I love what I do and I love using my skills to give back to the veterans. I feel bad they can’t get access to affordable dental care.”
“This is a great program,” said Dan Ziegler, a 1970-71 U.S. Army veteran from Eau Claire. “I really appreciate it personally, and I know all the veterans here do too. Every Christmas I bring a poinsettia here to the clinic.”
“I have to pay out-of-pocket for dental care, and I have a family – it’s not just me,” Till said. “I’ll pay for my kids and wife to get it before I get it.”
Till tried to spread the word to his Pierce County veterans through Facebook and other social networking, and hopes to see more make the trip to Eau Claire for the annual event in the future. “I understand the VA’s limitations,” Till said. “They can’t pay for everything, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s needed.”
Bonnie Mercer of Durand brought her father, Gerald Johnson, Sr., an Army veteran, and her brother, Gerald Jr., a Navy veteran, to the clinic. “Two years ago I was trying to get some dental care for my dad and we didn’t have insurance, so I called the CVTC Dental Clinic and found about Give Vets a Smile day,” Mercer said. “I said ‘sign us up!’”
“This is the third time we’ve been up here,” said Gerald Sr. “I’m going to have a checkup and a cleaning, and I have something that was put in fall out.”
James Sabish of Bloomer, a 1963-66 U.S. Army veteran who served in Vietnam, brought his 86-year-old neighbor, Richard Zwiefelhofer, a 1951-53 Army veteran who served in Korea.
“I’m getting my teeth cleaned and a checkup,” Sabish said. “I have a couple of teeth that are hurting me. I don’t have a regular dentist, but I came here last year.”
“I haven’t been to a dentist in a long time,” said Steve Dahl of Chippewa Falls, a 1973-79 Air Force veteran. “I don’t have dental insurance and I lost my job, so I don’t have a lot of money. “I’ve got a loose tooth in the back that feels like it’s ready to fall out.”
For the second year, CVTC Respiratory Care students also volunteered. “They’re facilitating getting patients into the clinic, checking vital signs and giving free COPD education with materials from the COPD Foundation,” said Don Raymond, Respiratory Therapy program director. He added that the community service work also benefits the students, who gain experience in patient interaction.
“We get to talk over things with patients and help them understand,” said Bre Bursaw, a Respiratory Therapy student from Mondovi. “It’s nice to put what we learned into practice.”
Chippewa Valley Technical College delivers superior, progressive technical education which improves the lives of students, meets the workforce needs of the region, and strengthens the larger community. Campuses are located in Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, Menomonie, Neillsville and River Falls. CVTC serves an 11-county area in west central Wisconsin. CVTC is part of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) and is one of 16 WTCS colleges located throughout the state.