Last Updated on April 21, 2023 by Luke Feldbrugge
The Adopt a Vet Dental Program is dedicated to providing dental healthcare to veterans in Nevada. The Homes for Heroes Foundation awarded the organization a $10,000 hero grant to assist in their mission.
The Adopt a Vet Dental Program has a simple mandate: provide dental care to veterans and change lives. And that’s what they do.
The Homes for Heroes Foundation gave a $10,000 grant to the organization to help it fulfill its mission. This Homes for Heroes Foundation grant is part of the Homes for Heroes’ Circle of Giving, providing assistance for heroes in dire need across the country.
The Adopt a Vet Dental Program Interview with Jay Flynn
Homes for Heroes Outreach Coordinator, Jay Flynn, talks to Demi Gonzalez, the executive director of the Adopt a Vet Dental Program, and Michael Ray, the Homes for Heroes real estate specialist who nominated the organization. You can watch the full interview here or read the transcript of the interview below.
Jay: Hello. Thanks for joining us today. I’m Jay Flynn, Homes for Heroes hero outreach coordinator. And I’m joined today by Demi Gonzalez, the executive director of the Adopt a Vet Dental Program, and Michael Ray, Homes for Heroes real estate specialist. Welcome, guys.
As part of the Homes for Heroes Circle of Giving, the Homes for Heroes Foundation provides grants to nonprofits whose missions are to support our heroes in dire need. I’m happy to recognize that the Adopt a Vet Dental Program is a Home for Heroes Foundation 2022 grant recipient. Michael, you were actually there. You did the big check presentation with Demi.
Tell us a little bit about that experience.
Michael: Oh, it’s fantastic. He had a nice crowd. There was a fundraiser for his program. Lots of politicians – a lot of wannabe politicians, I think. But everyone was wanting to be seen. They’re out for a good cause. It’s something that’s easy to get behind. It really does such an amazing thing to reach these people that really need his help and his organization’s help.
And it helps. It really, truly helps those that have nothing.
Jay: That’s awesome. Demi and Michael, the Homes for Heroes Foundation is honored to be able to give the Adopt a Vet Dental Program this $10,000 grant. You guys know, we certainly owe our gratitude to all of those who’ve served in our country’s armed forces. And there are new challenges that face that group every day.
And we hope that this grant to Adopt a Vet Dental Program will help serve our veteran heroes. Let’s take a few minutes and talk about the Adopt a Vet Dental Program and its mission. So, Michael, you nominated Adopt a Vet Dental Program for the Homes for Heroes Foundation grant. What moved you to make that nomination?
Michael: Well, it was meeting Jeremy. He was actually a Homes for Heroes client. I was helping him and his family find a home here in Las Vegas. They’re moving down from Reno. During the conversation, I asked, “What’s bringing you to Vegas?” and he said “it’s my work. I head up this organization called, Adopt a Vet Dental Program.” So I was like, well I’m part of Homes for Heroes, which is giving back to veterans and the first responders.
So, that automatically piqued my interest. When he talked to me about it, the passion and the care and everything that he has behind this organization, it touches you. Your eyes are open to what these veterans are going through and how they’ve been forgotten and left behind. And you would think, at least with the VA, that your basic health needs would be taken care of, including dental.
And you start getting these older veterans, and they start having heart and kidney and all these other health problems because they’ve never had any dental work done because they just can’t afford it. His program really takes the forgotten ones, the ones that really have nothing and goes out and advocates for them at the VA for their health. He shows why they can smile again and gives them a little bit of hope.
Once he explained it, it was easy to get behind this and push it as far as I can. I brought it up to Homes for Heroes. Obviously, you were able to see the same thing that I saw.
Jay: That’s awesome. So, Demi, tell us a little bit about how Adopt a Vet Dental Program was founded and what inspired its founders to create it?
Demi: Linda Haig and Wayne Haig were the founders of this program. They started it in April of 2010. Linda, who worked at the University of Reno, was working with the elderly. She would go and her job was to help the elderly that were in residential elderly homes. She would go to sing with them, take care of them, and just do amazing things with them to let them know that they weren’t forgotten.
On her last day before her retirement, there’s a little park down from the University of Reno. She went there and she saw some elderly men that she’d never seen before. She’d been working in this program for many years. She said, “You guys don’t look familiar.”
“We are veterans. We live here in this veterans home.” And she was like, “How is the VA treating you?” And they said, “The VA treats us well medically, but they don’t treat us well dental wise.” And she was like, “What do you mean? There’s a VA dental clinic here. Why don’t you guys go and get seen?”
They told her that – what really surprised her – there’s three categories that you have to meet in order to get seen there. One of them is you would had to have been a prisoner of war. There are 18.2 million veterans in the United States. There are less than 3,000 ex-prisoners of war.
There are only two that were ever a prisoner of war living in Nevada. That really doesn’t do much for veterans in Nevada. The second criteria is that you would have had to have been 100% disabled or have a disabled rating within the VA. The VA doesn’t care how many people are actually 100%.
They only count individuals that are 70% to 100%, according to the way they count those numbers. There are about 900,000 that are between 70% and 100% disabled. They don’t have an actual number. If you add the 2000 and 900,000, that still doesn’t make a million–certainly not 18.2 million.
The third criteria is that you had to have been injured in the mouth. Well, the Army has the research group that really focuses on injuries from the neck up. They call that “cranial maxillofacial injuries”. There’s around 5,500 of those that the Army Research Group says are actual facial injuries. But they don’t get down to the mouth part.
No one knows how many of those were actually hurt the most. If you add all of those, you might make a million, out of the 18.2 million, that are actually veterans in the United States. There’s 270,000 of those here in Reno and Nevada. We started that way. What Linda and her husband Lyndon did is they said, “We can’t let this happen. There’s got to be something we can do.”
She started by asking her dentist to see some of the veterans that she saw at the park. And it turned into a second dentist and a third dentist. And you fast forward to now– there’s about 139 dentists from northern Nevada to central Nevada. They do pro bono dental work for us.
And about two years ago, the state legislature saw how good we were doing in the North. And they petitioned us to move our organization to move to the south. That’s going to add more than 200,000 veterans that possibly could use our help. We did that in the midst of a year of COVID. We did it because, I mean, you can’t stop. You just can’t stop.
When you go to war, a cold doesn’t stop the veteran from fighting for the country. So why would civilians stop fighting for the people that fought for them? You get like-minded people like Mark who have a heart for veterans – your organization as well. We don’t stop because we are in battle.
We still have World War II veterans that slept in the snow. We have Korean veterans that you see in pictures, with toes falling off because of frozen arms and legs. I mean, these are the veterans that we treat that the VA ignores.
They refuse to see them because of the three categories. Linda just couldn’t do it. Her dad was a World War II veteran.
Her dad was a boat owner back in World War II. They were the first search and rescue. So she has a connection to it. You know, my brother died in Afghanistan when I was with them. We both served in Afghanistan, and I brought him home, buried him, and went right back. We just don’t stop. And these veterans that come through our program, they just need our help.
That’s how we started. Then we keep asking dentists to participate in our program and to keep doing it. And we pay for the labs. We have to raise money all year round . It’s very expensive to pay for the laboratory. But the dentists do all the dental.
Jay: Awesome. So what kind of resources do you need? Obviously it takes a ton of resources for Adopt a Vet Dental Program to do what they do within the veteran community. So talk to us a little bit about those resources that you guys offer.
Demi: If you go out to a normal dental practice, every single thing that they do there, our program does for veterans. There’s nothing we don’t do. Implants are the only things that we are very careful about.
We don’t normally do implants, but in certain instances, if your dental situation mandates that you need implants, we will do them. But we rarely do implants because of the expense and just the care that you need after the implant is given to the patient. But we do everything. If a patient comes into our program, we tell the dentist: A through Z. If you want to participate in our program, we need the patient to have access to everything from a cavity to gum disease to dentures. We need you to treat that person 100%. When they’re done with your treatment, they wouldn’t need anything else. And the dentist agrees to that. The caveat is that we promised to do all the admin work. We will call the patient. We give continuing education credits because of what you do for us for free. The state allows us to do that. And then we pay for all the dental labs. So we let them use the labs.
They like to use the dental laboratories. The dental laboratories charge us directly. So the dentist doesn’t even have to worry about that. The VA uses Tier 3 dental appliances for the veterans, which are the cheapest labs. That’s what they do for a veteran who is willing to sacrifice their life for this country, which sounds absolutely ridiculous.
We use Tier 1 and Tier 2. We use the best. We’re not going to give a veteran the cheapest stuff, which is what the VA does. We don’t do that. We give them the best of what we have to offer in the community. So there’s really nothing that they’ll need when they leave us, other than wanting to stay in our program.
But unfortunately, they can’t stay in our program. Once they’re done, we partner with another organization that keeps their dental hygiene up so that they don’t have to come back to our program.
Jay: Well, that’s pretty awesome that you’ve been able to partner with another group once you fix all of the things that are going on. They’re going to keep that hygiene piece of it so they don’t have a relapse and go right back to the same kind of issues. That’s an awesome partnership for sure. So with all that, I know you’ve got to have some stories, right?
There’s got to be a story that just sticks out to you about the impact that Adopt a Vet Dental Program has made in the veteran community.
Demi: Yeah, so there’s one we had. We had a gentleman come in during COVID and, of course, everyone was wearing a mask. What we do when we bring these people in our program is they have to come through a session. Our introductory session is where I say the rules of the program, and then they show us the paperwork to validate that they meet the requirements for our program.
This gentleman told us, “I know all these other people don’t like masks, but for me, it’s the blessing of the year. You don’t have to see what my teeth look like and I can work anywhere.” So this gentleman was a top salesman in Nevada for what he sold. But he went through some mental issues from his military service.
He lost his job. He just couldn’t take care of himself mentally. And his teeth just went really bad to the point where they just started falling out. He and his wife were in the same position. His wife also had some issues that she was dealing with. They would get drunk and take drugs to take their teeth out with pliers they had gotten at the local market.
And he went into detail on our website. You can see that interview. He described what that was like. He would go to the VA and they’d say, “we’ll give you antibiotics and some pain medicine, but we’re not going to see you. You just don’t meet the requirement.” So he’s over there begging for treatment for the multiple infections in his mouth.
The business that he worked for, they put him in the back because they didn’t want him being seen by the customers that went in there. So he went from making a very above-medium-level living to very impoverished living because no one would hire him from his teeth and the way he looked. And he was broken down.
His marriage was on the rocks. They were constantly at each other’s throats because of what was going on. So when he came to our program, we promised him, ( no one believes us) you’re not going to pay us. We’re going to take care of you. It never fails. Every time we go into these sessions, everyone’s like, “Oh no, what’s the catch? There’s always something. We have got to pay something.”
In the end, they don’t. There’s zero that they pay. And so we fast forward to his treatment. When we got done with them, and we were able to get him his dentures and things like that, he cried uncontrollably. He could not, for the life of him, figure why somebody would pay for all of this when they were telling him at a local dental practice that it was going to be $30,000 to do the extractions, the recovery, and all that stuff.
Why would someone do it for free? And we always do post operative and post treatment interviews. He calls us very excited and he says, “Hey, remember that job where I told you I was in the back? I’m in the front now again, and I got a promotion and I’m moving to a different state where I got a very good paying job.” He and his wife were able to sell that home and go. Now both his wife and himself are doing a lot better. They’re not arguing anymore.
He’s making triple the amount of money he was making, based on just his looks. He had the talent, obviously, because he was the number one salesman before.
But if I could, I’ll tell you just a quick story about one of the worst stories that we’ve had.
We had a lady who was a World War II veteran. She was a nurse, and this nurse was on the Mercy. It was a World War II hospital ship, and it was struck by a kamikaze, and she was on board. She was there when that kamikaze hit. For four years, all she saw was the trauma of war.
Her only job was working on severed limbs, for people that were blown up – young men, young kids, older men that were blown up. And that’s all she saw for years. She eventually was able to go home after the war, but she had severe PTSD and had many problems. But you know, during that time, no one ever really thought that women had PTSD, and they didn’t even have a name for that for the men.
They just knew it was something that they had during war, but they never really took care of that. Well, you fast forward to 2015, and people kept hearing her story. She came to us because she could not afford dental care. And we treated her, and she graduated from our program.
She was very grateful. In fact, I think it was before Governor Sisolak gave her the key to the state, and named a day for her on Veterans Day. Well, last year, her son called us and said, “Hey, would you mind treating my mom again?”
I’m like, “Wait a moment. What does your mom need?”
And the son of this World War II veteran said, “We went to the VA and they don’t want to treat her.”
I’m like, “Why won’t they treat your mom?” She did her paperwork to get 100% so she could get seen at the VA. Obviously, she had plenty of trauma. I mean, she had proved that she was in the war, like the worst of it. She gets the response back from the VA that says, “We’re not going to give you 100% because at 101, you can still work.”
That’s the worst story we’ve ever heard. And that’s what you do. And if it wasn’t for the dentists that care for these people, people like this who are forgotten, we would never know. We have tons – 67% of the veterans we treat are Vietnam veterans. They were spit on, feces thrown on them, called baby killers. These kids that were 17, 18 years old, were forced to go fight a war.
But when they need their country, they’re denied the services that they should be given no matter what. And they’re not. If it wasn’t for this program, they wouldn’t.
Jay: Wow. How will the grant from the Homes for Heroes Foundation help further the Adopt a Vet Dental Program mission within the veteran community?
Demi: I’ll tell you, tremendously, and I will tell you why. We have 270,000 veterans in the state of Nevada. It varies every year, but about 270,000. About 44,000 of those meet the requirement for getting seen through our program. There’s no way we’re going to be able to see all of them. We just don’t have funds for it.
I mean, you can get 3,000 dentists and they still wouldn’t go through that many veterans. We only have four staff members:
- Heather Borkowski, who’s our assistant executive director
- Charlotte Worley, who’s our general director for all the community dentists
- Linda Haeg, who’s the founder, but she also does a lot of our grant writing
That’s all we’ve got for the state of Nevada. And if we’re not treating patients, we’re out there trying to garner revenue to continue to support the program that is so important to these veterans. When we get $10,000, that means that the staff members that could be working on a patient are working on a patient.
They’re not out there day and night, away from the dental clinic, trying to raise money for this cause. When we get grants like $10,000, it allows us to see even more patients without having to waste time. I shouldn’t call it “waste time,” but it takes so much time to raise funds.
I mean, Mike can tell you that the fundraiser we had two Sundays ago was massive. That check of $10,000, it just does wonders. I mean, if you go on to our website and look at the before and after pictures, I really wouldn’t have to say anything.
You can see where $10,000 goes. It changes people’s lives. It saves their lives.
Jay: That is awesome. Mike, what a great, great group you’ve adopted. Obviously you have been touched by them and that’s why you nominated them. That’s awesome. And everything you are doing is truly making a difference in veteran’s lives for sure. Without a doubt.
I did go on your website and saw some of those before and after photos. Speaking of that, Demi, share with our audience how they can get more involved and where they can go to find out a little bit more about Adopt a Vet Dental Program in your mission.
Demi: Sure. You can go on our website at Adopt a Vet Dental dot com. And if you go there, there’s going to be a video. The video will tell you a little bit about what we do. But then as you click on the icons on top of the Web page, it’ll tell you about our staff.
You can go on to our financials. We are a 100% open institution. There is nothing that you will never not know about – where our money goes, our taxes are there. Everything is there. We don’t hide anything. If you want to know where the money’s going, that’s where it’s going. Now, if you want to donate to our program, we’re constantly looking for partners in our program.
There are donate buttons at the top and bottom left of our Web pages. You can just donate. It’s very easy to donate. But more than a donation, we’re looking for partners. What I mean by that is – yes, we love donations, don’t get me wrong – but partnerships last lifetimes. And if you have the ability to partner up with us, and maybe do a yearly fundraiser with us where we all get together, and if you have an organization that you would like to promote, what better way to promote it than with veterans?
And if we can do that with you, I’d love to do that. But yeah, you can call us. The phone number at Reno is 775-470-8707. Or you can contact our office here at 702-268-2836 in the Vegas area. And we’d love to talk to you. If you have any questions, give us a call. We’d be more than happy to sit on the phone, and even more so if you’d like to meet face to face.
We do that too. We’re not afraid to meet in person.
Jay: Awesome. Well, I want to thank both of you guys for taking the time to join me today. And thank you both for everything that you guys are doing to support our veterans. Obviously, there’s a huge need and you have to work incrementally, right? You eat an elephant a bite at a time. Right? And that’s what you guys are doing for sure.
To our audience, thank you guys for taking time to hear more about the great work that Adopt a Vet Dental Program is doing for the veteran community. An easy way to show your support is by giving this video a like, leave us a comment, and more importantly, share it. Give us a share. That helps get the word out about great programs like Adopt a Vet Dental Program. Make sure that you tune into future episodes to learn about the meaningful nonprofits that the Homes for Heroes Foundation partners with to help heroes across the nation in dire need.
But until next time – and most importantly – take a moment today and say thank you to our heroes.
Adopt A Vet Dental Program – Results and Smiles
When the Homes for Heroes Foundation gives a grant, we know the money is going to go to help community heroes. From time to time, we get to see the results and hear directly from the people who were helped. This is one of those times.
At this year’s Homes for Heroes Success Camp, an annual gathering of our real estate and mortgage specialists, we got to hear directly from Adopt a Vet Dental and a client who was helped using the Homes for Heroes Foundation grant dollars. This has been a remarkable program and this was a chance to hear about it directly from the leaders and one of the vets that received assistance.
As you can see, a simple smile can tell a beautiful story about changing people’s lives.
Homes for Heroes
Grants from the Homes for Heroes Foundation are made possible by the Homes for Heroes Circle of Giving and its network of real estate professionals who are committed to providing savings to hero groups such as firefighters, EMS, law enforcement, military, active and veterans, health care professionals and teachers. To learn more about the service available through Homes for Heroes or to learn more about how the foundation is helping heroes in dire need, visit Homes for Heroes.
Please take a moment to learn more about the Homes for Heroes Foundation and the grants it provides nonprofit organizations who help heroes in need, or simply to make a donation.