Vets dental program reunites classmates
Many times, the cliché of “it’s a small world” describes a chance meeting in life.
For local dentist Dr. Tony Guillen, he was reacquainted with a classmate from San Bernardino, Calif., when they attended the same high school almost a half-century ago.
Guillen began treating William Long, who moved to Fallon three years ago after his wife died, as part of the Adopt a Vet Dental Program, which provides dental care to low-income veterans who cannot afford to see a dentist and go years without seeking treatment.
This is Guillen’s first year in the program.
After being placed on a waiting list for six months, William Long was able to begin the dental treatment he so desperately needed.
What ensued, though, was that once-in-a-lifetime chance meeting, said Guillen, who said the conversation began when Long quizzed Guillen about his background.
“He asked me where I grew up, and I told him San Bernardino,” Guillen said. “Then he asked me which high school.”
Guillen said they knew many of the same students and probably had some of the same teachers.
“That was amazing, like old-home week,” Long said, discussing the coincidences of attending the same high school.
They grew up within six miles of each other and were transported by school bus to Pacific High School. Guillen, who graduated in 1968, was one year behind Long.
Long, though, never graduated. He dropped out in 1966 to join the Army and received his GED. During his three-year military service, Long served in Germany, never receiving orders to ship off to Vietnam.
Once he returned to California, Long worked as a heavy equipment operator and mechanic, and worked for the city of San Bernardino and March Air Force Base. He moved to Battle Mountain and worked in the mines for a decade until his wife passed away. Long then moved to Fallon to be closer to relatives.
It was also a chance meeting that Guillen heard of the Adopt a Vet Dental Program.
“I was talking with (Dr.) Curt Karlson (a physician at the VA Lahontan Valley Outpatient Clinic) about serving the vets,” Guillen said. “He told me about this program about helping veterans. Curt told me they don’t have a lot of vets who qualify through the Veterans Administration.”
In order to qualify for VA dental care, a veteran must have a 100 percent service-connected disability, injured in the jaw or mouth while serving or been a prisoner of war.
Guillen then checked out the dental program and agreed to help two veterans for the first year by volunteering his time and providing the dental material.
Currently, the national program has 115 participating dentists and specialists and 15 dental labs. About 450 veterans have been enrolled in the program; however, 330 veterans remain on the waiting list and are still in need of dental care.