Vermont veterans find roadblocks to getting dental care at the White River Junction VA

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION, Vt. — When Cold War-era U.S. Navy veteran Donald McColgan of Danby, Vermont, turned to the Veterans Administration Hospital in White River Junction for help with an extreme dental problem, he learned that in-house veteran dental care is non-existent compared to VA facilities in other states.

McColgan, a former naval aviation crew member, has a painful nerve disorder possibly linked to several flight-related missions including participation in U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s failed American hostage-rescue mission in the Iranian desert in 1980.

Lou Varricchio

Vermont VFW’s Donald Dockter: “Unfortunately with the declining members of Congress who have actually worn the uniform of the United States Armed Services, we are continually battling to maintain what benefits that we do have and encourage them to recognize new issues that continually pop up as our men and women in uniform are sent into conflicts by them.” Pictured: Vermont veterans at the 2018 Middlebury Memorial Day Parade.

“I’m a 100-percent disabled veteran. I am trying to get dental care help from the White River Junction VA,” McColgan told True North.

But McColgan says he is struggling to get that help.

“I guess it’s no surprise that the department there is dysfunctional. They don’t call you back and even the service providers say that,” he said. “What gets me is that I have a veteran friend, with no disability, who lives in Minnesota. He told me recently that it took approximately three weeks for him to get total dental care at the VA there. I’ve been working on this for the second year, to get proper treatment; it’s weird isn’t it? The VA is a cesspool of dysfunction from my perspective.”

McColgan told True North he believes a doctor at the hospital is rejecting dental care for disabled vets who are otherwise qualified to receive such health-related treatment. True North was unable to verify McColgan’s claim, however.

“I can say that they rejected my treatment plan by professional outside dentists for many years, plus they keep moving the goal posts, as I try to receive simple dentures as a 100 percent disabled Veteran — all this to increase my self-confidence and self-esteem,” he said.

What makes the VA facility in White River Junction frustrating to veterans in search of dental care is that the hospital, unlike most other VA hospitals in other states, farms out treatment plans to community dentists.

“We actually don’t have dental care here on site,” Katherine Tang, public affairs officer at the VA in White River Junction, told True North. “We refer all of this (dental work) out to the community.

“What would happen is that veterans would come to us, request dental care, and then we would ask them what dentist (in their hometown) they like to go to visit? We ask them to send the plan to us, and then we’d have to approve it. … We may now be the only VA facility (in the country) without dental in house. Our veteran population is too small (to justify an in-house dental staff).”

Tang said she doesn’t know why McColgan isn’t getting call backs from the VA in Vermont, but she noted that she would look into his specific case. She stressed that the White River Junction staff work hard to call back every veteran contacting the hospital.

“When we receive a referral like his, someone on staff calls the veteran and later calls the provider to let him/her know whether or not there’s an approval or denial (of the treatment plan),” she added. “It’s up to the community provider to schedule the appointment.”

White River Junction VA Medical Center

The 74-bed, acute-care capable White River Junction VA Medical Center (WRJ) located along the Connecticut River in White River Junction serves multi-aged veterans living in Vermont and New Hampshire.

The Veterans of Foreign Wars, based in Kansas City, Missouri, has reached out to help veterans whenever they have difficulties dealing with the byzantine ways of the VA. Veterans do not have to be paid members of the VFW to get assistance.

“For problems with the VA, we typically refer veterans to our National Veterans Service wing,” VFW official Michael Edson said. “Any veteran can use this service for free. It’s a network of our service officers and other individuals who are well versed with the VA system. These people work with veterans on a case-by-case basis; they work to get them what they deserve. Veterans (like Mr. McColgan) with VA problems should call our hotline at 800-839-1899. The veteran will get attention.

The VFW’s state adjutant in Vermont is Don Dockter, a former Vietnam-era U.S. Navy dental-equipment repair specialist. Dockter prefaced his comments to True North by stressing that his own opinions do not reflect the opinions of the Veterans of Foreign Wars organization.

“Any veteran with a VA problem should contact Pat Leahy, Bernie Sanders, and Peter Welch; they will get right back — and yes, it does suck. We as veterans, from the neck up, we can’t get nothing,” Dockter said.

Dockter is a 20-year retired Navy veteran who has to pay for his own dental insurance and struggles to “get anything done.”

“(Mr. McColgan) is not alone. … Back in the 1990s WRJ had a full dental office but they were using it to treat the teeth of state prisoners — that ticked me off. When it comes to dental, veterans are not covered. The prisoners got more immediate treatment. It’s a sad situation but that’s the way it is.

“Concerning Mr. McColgan’s issue, our VA Hospital in White River junction is not at fault. This is a countrywide mandate. We are very fortunate to have one of the top-rated VA hospitals serving our area in the United States in White River Junction.”

Dockter would like to see more U.S. elected representatives gain a better appreciation for the needs of men and women who have served the nation after they return home.

“Unfortunately, with the declining members of Congress who have actually worn the uniform of the United States Armed Services, we are continually battling to maintain what benefits that we do have and encourage them to recognize new issues that continually pop up as our men and women in uniform are sent into conflicts by them,” Dockter said. “They do listen to us as we have approximately 1.7 million members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.”

A staff member in U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ constituent office in Burlington said the 2020 presidential candidate has been a long-time advocate for veteran benefits. In 2016, Veterans for Bernie Sanders was an association of military veterans supporting the senator’s presidential run while veterans supporting President Donald Trump’s campaign affiliated with the Veterans for Donald Trump group on Facebook.

The staffer told True North that a number of caseworkers in Sanders’ office are working with Vermont veterans with VA-related problems, including dental-related issues. Veterans are encouraged to contact the senator’s Burlington office with more information so caseworkers can begin to resolve the problem.

Lou Varricchio is a freelance reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at

Images courtesy of U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Lou Varricchio/TNR and White River Junction VA Medical Center

4 thoughts on “Vermont veterans find roadblocks to getting dental care at the White River Junction VA

  1. Bernie is a total waste when it comes to Veterans. The medical people at WRJ VA are good in my opinion. It’s the GD entrenched bureaucrats that are the problem. Thy don’t give a GD for a vet. I confronted one and he said “we’re the government”. he was in Fee Basis. They are so corrupt and wasteful.

    If there were no vets, there wouldn’t be any bureaucrats and they don’t thank a vet, but rather have power over them. Reported 20 vets a day commit suicide, any wonder.
    I know in other VA’s you can get dental. I haven’t tried, i’s a waste. If a politician doesn’t get camera time, they won’t help a vet.

    I’v been fighting them since 1980

  2. “Concerning Mr. McColgan’s issue, our VA Hospital in White River junction is not at fault”.
    Mr Dockter -Maybe you didn’t listen to facts in the article about the dental dept at WRJ Vermont, as the dental problem in this dept at WRJ has been going on years, and a zero disabled Vet gets it fast and free in another state vs a 100% disabled vet! That is incredibly bassackwards”. I was rejected approximately a decade ago by dr davoren who’s in charge at WRJ, as he rejected my treatment by an Oral surgeon, which would have relieved immense suffering I was having. I had to pay outside dentists for that exact va rejected treatment from my own pocket, In my own opinion, there seems to be an ulterior motive for him to reject professional treatment plans by outside licensed doctors, and can only speculate that maybe it’s a bonus”, or wants the complaints so as to hire more in the dept, or institute a full scale inhouse dental dept. But this is a WRJ issue which should be investigated by the management or proper authorities, without favor of the white coat wall”. President Trump has the VA finally responding double time to Vets, plus there is a recently added accountability clause, but there are still pockets which are resisting”, and this VA along with some rural clinics are complicit. Bernie’s office knew of my and others plight long ago, and has done little over the years. Bernie was the chairman of the veterans subcommittee for years during the last admin also, and we know the serious problems during that time at the VA (secret waitlists & more). A large percentage of Vets know of the va’s failings, and people like you stating it’s not the WRJ va’s fault is insulting to us who have, or are suffering. The lack of communication is appalling at certain VA’s. Twenty two vets a day on average commit suicide, so someone has dropped the ball, and is not grabbing the bull by the horns.” Plus many patriotic vets raised a hand every time when the military needed volunteers, especially for certain imminent danger missions, and now out and disabled, many vets I’m sure regret the raising of that hand, because of the failed backup, by a medical system that promised proper humane treatment, to those who sacrificed in those missions.

  3. “Any veteran with a VA problem should contact Pat Leahy, Bernie Sanders, and Peter Welch; they will get right back”.

    Still laughing here.

    Sure they get back. They take all your information….and then do nothing – and you never hear from them again – like Sanders office. He was too busy telling us how he was going to take care of the world, than to take care of his constituents.

    When you owe .Gov money, they reach right into your checking account and take it. When THEY owe you money, you have to fight for it. It took me 1.5 years to fight to receive 6 months retired backpay owed to me – with no help from our Congressional Delegation. But I persevered, and .Gov was forced to pay up.

    Vets have to take care of themselves. Know your rights, know your benefits, and don’t settle for anything less than receiving them. If they don’t have dental care for eligible vets….don’t give up – make them deliver on their contracts and promises….just like we vets delivered on ours.

  4. Bernie has been a ‘long-time advocate for veteran benefits’ as long as it involves nothing more than tossing a few dollars to the VA; that allows him to make the claim.

    He shows up, when it suits him, to the Vermont Legion annual meeting and gives his spiel, then rushes out without taking questions.

    Bernie’s only working for Bernie now – cozying up to BLM and the Occasional Cortex crowd. After this presidential run he should be able to write another book and retire with a couple more homes.

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