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Funding to remedy decay in National Guard readiness

Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka
Nevada Appeal News Service

The Nevada Army National Guard will likely receive an increase in funding for corrective dental procedures during the next year to combat its high percentage of soldiers who are nondeployable because of dental health problems, said the Guard’s top dental officer this week.

Col. Daniel Savitske, the chief dental officer of the Army Guard, said $107 million is being earmarked for dental treatment for all soldiers who are nondeployable because of dental issues.

According to Savitske, 55 percent of all Army Guard members fall into nondeployable readiness status because of dental issues, either because they have not been examined recently or need corrective dental measures.

Nevada’s nondeployability rate because of dental issues hovers at about 40 percent.

Currently, only soldiers whose units have been alerted for mobilization are funded for dental treatment.

“The dental readiness issue has been noticed at the highest levels, and I think we are finally looking at a true solution,” said Savitske, who anticipates the funding for the dental work to arrive in fiscal year 2009, but added treatments could begin sooner. “The memorandum signed in February will allow for treatment for all Guardmembers regardless of their alert status.”

Nevada National Guard state deputy surgeon Col. (Ret.) Ann Demolski said additional funding to remedy dental issues would be welcomed but would also likely require additional administrative employees at the state level to oversee a wide-open dental treatment program.

“We have been working this issue for years,” Demolski said. “If this plan is finalized, it will be a wonderful benefit for our deploying troops.”

Although the memorandum does not specify when funding will begin for soldiers regardless of alert status, Savitske said, the timelines mentioned in the memorandum imply that corrective dental measures must be completed before mobilization.

“The U.S. code states that the secretary of the Army will provide dental care as required to meet dental standards to all service members required for deployment within 75 days of mobilization,” Savitske said. “With our new, shorter time at mob station, most National Guardsmen deploy in less than 75 days after reaching the mob station. The memo states that since all of us are expected to have less than 75 days at mob station, all of us are entitled to the care needed to meet the standards.”

The $107 million earmarked for dental treatment would represent an increase of about $50 million from the current $50-60 million spent annually on dental exams and treatment during alerts.

“Even though $107 million may sound like a lot of money, it is for more than 330,000 soldiers, so it isn’t a lot per soldier above what is already spent on just exams and X-rays,” Savitske said. “The majority of soldiers with problems that make them nondeployable can be treated to standard quickly and at low-cost. And many of the fixes are long term, thus reducing the costs over time.”

Of the $107 million earmarked for corrective dental procedures for Guardsmen nationwide, it is not yet know how much of the money will be directed to Nevada.

The vast majority of the corrective dental procedures would be contracted out to civilian dentists and clinics. The Army National Guard currently has only 156 dentists in its ranks out of a total of about 350,000 soldiers.

“We don’t have the numbers of dentists nor the clinics for our own dentists to treat our soldiers,” Savitske said. “Our dentists’ jobs are supervisory, to oversee the contractors’ work.”

Savitske said each respective state would determine a process to correct its soldiers’ dental problems and how to spend its allocated dental treatment funds.

“Because National Guard Dental Corps officers can’t treat, the treatment will have to be done by others,” Savitske said. “Similar methods that have been used successfully to get alerted soldiers treated can be used outside of alert. Some active-component dental facilities can take our soldiers on a space-available basis and contracts have been made in the past with dental schools, the Veterans Administration, private contractors to include individual dentists, and IMPACT cards (Government credit card) have been used.”

• Sgt. 1st Class Erick Studenicka is with the Nevada National Guard Public Affairs Bureau.