The VA doesn't cover dental care for all veterans. So these dentists are picking up the slack.

If you're a veteran, the VA won't help cover your pearly whites unless you fit into some very specific criteria.

Which means it is bizarrely difficult for many veterans to find affordable dental care.

The Department of Veterans Affairs helps veterans with a lot of medical insurance issues. However, veterans only qualify for full VA dental benefits under several specific conditions, including being 100% disabled or a former prisoner of war, or if they developed a dental issue while they were serving.


All photos by Aspen Dental, used with permission.

As a result, veterans struggle to find dental care that they can actually pay for.

And without access to dental care, veterans face life-threatening health risks like periodontal disease, which can lead to stroke or heart attack.

This is where the Mouth Mobile van comes in.

The van, which is run by Aspen Dental, is basically what it sounds like — a mobile dental office. It's a large van that travels through about 30 states each year, giving veterans free dental care.

The company started this initiative as part of its Healthy Mouth Movement, which was launched last year with the goal of reaching the 150 million Americans who are unable to visit the dentist because of high cost, lack of time, or lack of dental professionals nearby.

In 2014, the Mobile Mouth van treated almost 3,000 patients for free. When the volunteer dentists noticed how many of those patients were veterans without access to affordable dental care, they decided to make providing veterans with dental care their exclusive focus for 2015.

Aspen Dental has more than 500 offices around the country but has helped veterans in immeasurable ways thanks to the Mouth Mobile van.

Veteran William Bell, who couldn't get the VA to cover his costs, has Mouth Mobile to thank for his new set of teeth. According to The Huffington Post, when Bell arrived at the Mouth Mobile clinic, the volunteer dentist had to extract 19 of his 20 remaining teeth, which had deteriorated from severe periodontal disease.

Not only did Aspen Dental restore Bell to good dental health, they also provided him with dentures. The whole procedure and dentures would have cost him around $6,000, which he would not have been able to afford.

GIF via Aspen Dental/YouTube.

But it's not only Bell who Aspen Dental has helped. In September 2015, race car driver and Aspen Dental spokesperson Danica Patrick helped honor 2,200 veterans at the Chicagoland Speedway.

It's kind of weird that dental care is treated separately from the rest of our health care.

Dental care is so important not only to one's overall health but to our livelihoods, too. Especially in fields where interacting face-to-face with others is a regular part of the job, having clean, healthy teeth can be a huge advantage. Once Mouth Mobile restored Bell's teeth and provided him with a set of dentures, he had the confidence to apply for a job at the Arkansas Forestry Commission.

But dentistry is still often treated more as a "craft" than a medically necessary field, a centuries-old attitude that still remains today, which is why there's often a lack of availability in dental insurance.

Even the Affordable Care Act didn't initially include dental coverage, making such care unaffordable for many Americans. And a 2014 research brief from the American Dental Association found lack of income and insurance are the chief barriers to accessing dental care.

Obamacare still only extends dental coverage to children, not adults.

Mouth Mobile and similar initiatives are only a first step in solving this problem — not just for veterans, but for everyone.


Only when we realize that dental care is essential to our health — and only when we provide better insurance coverage for it — will we begin to make progress in ensuring everyone has the same access to dental care.

See Danica Patrick and Aspen Dental honor 2,200 veterans in the video below:

Courtesy of Amita Swadhin
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In 2016, Amita Swadhin, a child of two immigrant parents from India, founded Mirror Memoirs to help combat rape culture. The national storytelling and organizing project is dedicated to sharing the stories of LGBTQIA+ Black, indigenous people, and people of color who survived child sexual abuse.

"Whether or not you are a survivor, 100% of us are raised in rape culture. It's the water that we're swimming in. But just as fish don't know they are in water, because it's just the world around them that they've always been in, people (and especially those who aren't survivors) may need some help actually seeing it," they add.

"Mirror Memoirs attempts to be the dye that helps everyone understand the reality of rape culture."

Amita built the idea for Mirror Memoirs from a theater project called "Undesirable Elements: Secret Survivors" that featured their story and those of four other survivors in New York City, as well as a documentary film and educational toolkit based on the project.

"Secret Survivors had a cast that was gender, race, and age-diverse in many ways, but we had neglected to include transgender women," Amita explains. "Our goal was to help all people who want to co-create a world without child sexual abuse understand that the systems historically meant to help survivors find 'healing' and 'justice' — namely the child welfare system, policing, and prisons — are actually systems that facilitate the rape of children in oppressed communities," Amita continues. "We all have to explore tools of healing and accountability outside of these systems if we truly want to end all forms of sexual violence and rape culture."

Amita also wants Mirror Memoirs to be a place of healing for survivors that have historically been ignored or underserved by anti-violence organizations due to transphobia, homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and white supremacy.

Amita Swadhin

"Hearing survivors' stories is absolutely healing for other survivors, since child sexual abuse is a global pandemic that few people know how to talk about, let alone treat and prevent."

"Since sexual violence is an isolating event, girded by shame and stigma, understanding that you're not alone and connecting with other survivors is alchemy, transmuting isolation into intimacy and connection."

This is something that Amita knows and understands well as a survivor herself.

"My childhood included a lot of violence from my father, including rape and other forms of domestic violence," says Amita. "Mandated reporting was imposed on me when I was 13 and it was largely unhelpful since the prosecutors threatened to incarcerate my mother for 'being complicit' in the violence I experienced, even though she was also abused by my father for years."

What helped them during this time was having the support of others.

"I'm grateful to have had a loving younger sister and a few really close friends, some of whom were also surviving child sexual abuse, though we didn't know how to talk about it at the time," Amita says.

"I'm also a queer, non-binary femme person living with complex post-traumatic stress disorder, and those identities have shaped a lot of my life experiences," they continue. "I'm really lucky to have an incredible partner and network of friends and family who love me."

"These realizations put me on the path of my life's work to end this violence quite early in life," they said.

Amita wants Mirror Memoirs to help build awareness of just how pervasive rape culture is. "One in four girls and one in six boys will be raped or sexually assaulted by the age of 18," Amita explains, "and the rates are even higher for vulnerable populations, such as gender non-conforming, disabled, deaf, unhoused, and institutionalized children." By sharing their stories, they're hoping to create change.

"Listening to stories is also a powerful way to build empathy, due to the mirror neurons in people's brains. This is, in part, why the project is called Mirror Memoirs."

So far, Mirror Memoirs has created an audio archive of BIPOC LGBTQI+ child sexual abuse survivors sharing their stories of survival and resilience that includes stories from 60 survivors across 50 states. This year, they plan to record another 15 stories, specifically of transgender and nonbinary people who survived child sexual abuse in a sport-related setting, with their partner organization, Athlete Ally.

"This endeavor is in response to the more than 100 bills that have been proposed across at least 36 states in 2021 seeking to limit the rights of transgender and non-binary children to play sports and to receive gender-affirming medical care with the support of their parents and doctors," Amita says.

In 2017, Mirror Memoirs held its first gathering, which was attended by 31 people. Today, the organization is a fiscally sponsored, national nonprofit with two staff members, a board of 10 people, a leadership council of seven people, and 500 members nationally.

When the pandemic hit in 2020, they created a mutual aid fund for the LGBTQIA+ community of color and were able to raise a quarter-million dollars. They received 2,509 applications for assistance, and in the end, they decided to split the money evenly between each applicant.

While they're still using storytelling as the building block of their work, they're also engaging in policy and advocacy work, leadership development, and hosting monthly member meetings online.

For their work, Amita is one of Tory's Burch's Empowered Women. Their donation will go to Mirror Memoirs to help fund production costs for their new theater project, "Transmutation: A Ceremony," featuring four Black transgender, intersex, and non-binary women and femmes who live in California.

"I'm grateful to every single child sexual survivor who has ever disclosed their truth to me," Amita says. "I know another world is possible, and I know survivors will build it, together with all the people who love us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Image is a representation of the grandfather, not the anonymous subject of the story.

Eight years a go, a grandfather in Michigan wrote a powerful letter to his daughter after she kicked out her son out of the house for being gay. It's so perfectly written that it crops up on social media every so often.

The letter is beautiful because it's written by a man who may not be with the times, but his heart is in the right place.

It first appeared on the Facebook page FCKH8 and a representative told Gawker that the letter was given to them by Chad, the 16-year-old boy referenced in the letter.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."