A Bay Area dentist and her husband are ready to open a long-planned clinic in Tracy dedicated the medical treatment of military veterans.
Dr. Angela Bayat and her husband, Jaime Aguinaldo, began planning a clinic for veterans when they found out how few qualify for dental coverage through the Veterans Administration.
“It was one patient,” Bayat said in an interview Monday. “He was rather old, he was on disability and he came into the office and he had a broken denture in his hand. He was pleading with me to fix it and I said, ‘Well, you can’t really fix a denture. You have to get a new one.’ He said, ‘Well, I can’t afford a co-pay for the new denture because I’m on disability.’ And also he explained that he had cancer and his doctor wanted him to eat better but he couldn’t do that because of his broken denture. So that broke my heart.”
Bayat did the work at cost and Aguinaldo began researching what it takes for a veteran to get VA dental coverage.
“In general, it has to be 100 percent disabled, a dental trauma sustained during a tour of duty or a prisoner of war,” he recalled.
So the couple formed Dentists Organized for Veterans and recruited a handful of other Bay Area dentists with the goal of giving vets what they were not getting elsewhere.
“We can’t just sit and wait for a magic wand,” Bayat said. “I want the veterans to have the same level of care that any private-paying patient might have in my private office.”
On Thursday, the DOV clinic at 1940 N. Tracy Blvd., right next to the American Legion Hall, will celebrate its grand opening. For Vaughn Gates, commander of Tracy’s American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, the clinic is a welcome addition for local vets.
“It’s a great offer for us to have. I hope it works out,” he said Wednesday. “Dental’s tough to get out of the VA. You have to be a certain criteria person to receive dental, and most of them don’t meet the criteria.”
Doctors will rotate into the clinic, giving up a day of seeing their private patients, which might earn them between $7,000 and $20,000, and donating their time to help those who have served.
The couple added that while the doctors are donating time, the clinic still pays for the front desk staff, an assistant and a hygienist, and dental supplies.
“In dentistry, our issue is all the materials — our filling materials, all the things that go into someone’s mouth — that requires a lot of specialized equipment and materials. That’s what’s costly,” Bayat said. “So the short-term goal would be to have some kind of ongoing money that would come in where we could afford to buy these materials.”
But they got enough donations to get the project off the ground, the first couple of years seeing patients in their Concord office and now having enough money to open the Tracy clinic just for veterans.
“Due to some very, very generous people — one of them being Sutter hospital — we got significant initial donations to open up the practice in Tracy,” Aguinaldo said. “We couldn’t do an article without talking about how important two people, Randall Sasser and Kim Scarlata from the Grand Theatre, were to this whole process. They were diehard, very supportive of veterans, and have done everything in their power to get the DOV project off the ground and running.”
The clinic will be open one or two days a week and will be able to see between eight and 16 patients each week who make between $32,000 and $38,000 a year, have an honorable discharge, and have their military documentation, including their DD214 form.
Bayat just wants to give some relief to veterans who might have suffered oral pain and unsightliness for years because they lacked insurance coverage.
“It’s usually a mess. Meaning, of the 32 teeth, there are several that are missing,” she said. “We just have to restore them back to something that would allow them to smile without being self-conscious, to be able to function, meaning chew properly and not be in pain. Some of these people have been in pain — it just seems like they don’t have any other choice, so they just live with the pain. That is awful. That’s just awful.”
Aguinaldo said it’s the least DOV can do.
“Our office is beautiful. It’s comfortable. It looks like somebody’s living room,” he said. “Our technology is state-of-the-art. Our dental chairs are the most expensive dental chairs you can find on the market. They’re more expensive than the ones we have in our own private practice. We believe our veterans deserve that.”