Vets get free dental help

Some are hurting from lack of care

Dr. James C. Ramunno of Austintown, and dental assistant, Morgan N. McClure, provides free dental services for U.S. military veterans. This is the second year that The Center for Progressive Dentistry, 481 South High St., is providing a day of dental services for veterans of all stripes.

CORTLAND — The last time U.S. Army veteran Ulysees Lenix, 63, visited a dentist’s office was in 2002.

The former cook, who served from 1972 to 1975, could not help but smile at being given an opportunity to get his mouth checked and perhaps get some teeth replaced.

“Having something like this done is very important to a lot of veterans out here that are hurting physically, emotionally or, with this economy, financially,” Lenix said. “There are people in the community that are experiencing pain in one or a combination of these ways.”

“I hope there is something similar like this for civilians too,” Lenix said. “We have families experiencing the same kinds of pains being experienced by some veterans.”

A Warren resident, Lenix  was not the only former soldier, naval officer, airman and Marine that visited The Center for Progressive Dentistry during the office’s second annual free dental day for veterans on Saturday.

More than 32 veterans signed up to have their mouths checked and get minor repairs done.

Many admitted they have not seen a dentist for six years or more. Many of these veterans said they stopped going to dentists  in the mid-to late 2000s when Veterans Affairs, in an effort to reduce spending, stopped providing dental coverage.

The veterans made appointments to see volunteer dentists James C. Ramunno of Austintown, Joseph Bedich of Cortland and Anthony Caruso of Stow.

Bedich, owner of The Center for Progressive Dentistry, 481 S. High St., Cortland, did this for the first time last year as a wºay to give back to a community that has supported his practice since the late 1970s. Last year, with less lead time and with him being the only dentist working that day, Bedich saw more patients.

“My wife, Robin, and I just want to show our appreciation to service members and their families,” Bedich said. “I’ve been in the service, but I’ve  been a coach of kids whose fathers have been sent overseas providing service, so people like me can continue doing what we are doing.”

Bedich said his office will continue doing this as an annual tradition  as long as there is a need.

“Dental coverage should be provided to these veterans,” Bedich said. “The health of their mouths affects other diseases that cost the government money in treatment and affects the lives of some veterans.”

Warren resident Thomas Kearns II served in the U.S. Army from 1983 through 1986 as a member of the 101st Airborne Division. He served as part of the U.S.-led 1983 Invasion of Grenada as  a member of a helicopter crew.

Today, Kearns is working to get his life in order. He is actively looking for work and is involved with area veteran organizations.

“Having people doing something like this to help veterans is really appreciated,” Kearns said. “They found two cavities that I did not know I had. It would have cost me more than $800 to have this work done. That is money I do not have, so I’m very grateful.”

U.S. Navy veteran Dale “Buddy” Hood, who served from 1973 to 1977, said having the opportunity to visit the dentist  is an unexpected blessing.

“I do not have insurance and the VA does not offer dental care, so this is beautiful service,”  Hood said.

He worked in machine repair while in the service. He was able to transfer many of the skills he learned in the service into civilian work.

“I was a machinist for a while and found I really enjoyed working on cars,” Hood said. “I used my G.I. Bill to get training as an automotive technician, which led me to work with B & B Auto.”

Mineral Ridge resident Brian Wilkens, 49, a U.S. Army veteran who retired as a first sergeant in 2007 after a 22-year career, moved back into the area in 2013.

Now working with the Army Corps of Engineers, Wilkens learned about the free dental services from a flier he saw at the VA Center in Youngstown and decided to call to find out what kind of dental services were available.

“I’m fortunate because I do have a good job, but we’ve had some financial issues that has to be addressed and we are raising raising children,” he said. “There are a lot of  veterans out here who are in minimum wage jobs or worse. We appreciate what these dentists do, as well as other companies out here that go out of their way to  provide support for veterans.”