The purpose of this project is to provide required dental care to veterans in need in North Carolina. Our aim is to help achieve good physical and mental well being by improving oral health. A smile might be a small thing but it has an amazing impact on our state of mind! Our collaboration network includes the ECU Dental Medicine statewide clinics, NCServes (Asheville) and the county Veteran Services Offices.
Our Director's Team
David E. McCracken
Retired military officer and defense civil servant. Past President, Haywood County (NC) Library Foundation; Past Founder, Smoky Mountains Outreach Foundation – Sponsor of the two plus year VET SMILES pilot study.
Karen L. Walker
Chief Executive Officer
Founder and CEO of StopGap for Heroes, a nonprofit organization that provides veterans relevant educational interventions, quality services, strong support, community-based connections, resources and outreach that combat isolation. Karen is the spouse of a military veteran.
Russell E Conner
Chief Operating Officer
Military veteran and retired law enforcement officer. Founder and Executive Director – Warrior Clan Inc, COO – Vet Smiles Foundation
The ECU School of Dental Medicine educates North Carolinians to be tomorrow’s solution to the oral healthcare shortfall in our state. We prepare students who are inclined to serve rural and underserved populations, and we teach them using a national model that includes the most modern technology, intensive classroom instruction and hands-on experience at our statewide community service learning centers.
Faculty, students, and residents strive to meet patients where they are, to provide access to care close to their home communities. Our clinics at ECU and centers across the state offer solutions to patients who might otherwise not have access to dental care.
Dr. Rob Tempel
Associate Dean for Extramural Clinical Practice
Dr. Tempel is the Associate Dean for Extramural Clinical Practice at the ECU School of Dental Medicine, the last Army dentist to become Special Forces qualified. ECU SoDM conducts the flagship effort of VET SMILES: the ECU Smiles for Veterans at clinics across NC.
NC Serves is a coordinated network of public, private and nonprofit organizations serving veterans and their families utilizing a common technology platform to create accountability and formalize communication, coordination and transparency in order to efficiently and effectively guide veterans, service members and their families to the most appropriate services and resources available to achieve their unique goals.
NC Serves offers veterans, service members, and their families access to a class-leading continuum of providers that runs the gamut from superior housing and emergency service providers to employment, recreation and fitness, financial capabilities and more.
A Letter from Our Founder:
24 February 2021
My name is David E. McCracken and I want to introduce you to the Veteran Smiles Foundation (VSF). It was established in 2020 as a public charity designed to provide education and financial support to North Carolina veterans in need of improved dental health. Why did I do that? Unfortunately, most veterans do not qualify for dental care from the Veterans Administration. Only about 8% do qualify; most are 100% disabled.
I became aware of this ‘gap’ through my involvement with the Veterans Affairs Council in Haywood County, North Carolina. I am a retired U. S. Army officer and started a precursor organization in Western North Carolina with a three-year Pilot Study to help my fellow veterans with dental needs. The Pilot Study for this endeavor started in 2018 with my original non-profit organization, Smoky Mountain Outreach Foundation (SMOF), and partnered closely with a dental clinic in Sylva, NC. That clinic is one of eight Community Service Learning Centers (CSLC) from the East Carolina University (ECU) School of Dental Medicine (SoDM). These CSLC’s are located throughout the state in rural and under-resourced areas to train their dentists and also to provide a dental home for needy citizens in rural areas. SMOF, together with the Sylva ECU CSLC initiated ECU Smiles for Veterans as the flagship event of the broader VET SMILES initiative to provide a more comprehensive option to their special population of veterans needing dental care. ECU Smiles became an annual one-day event where all CSLC resources were dedicated to only veterans; while VET SMILES provided more extensive dental care needs such as crowns, partials, and even full sets of dentures.
The dental services provided by the CSLC’s are offset by Medicaid, private dental insurance, and patient reimbursement, and they also work with uninsured patients. Many of the rural veteran population needed more help, so our SMOF group sought to provide additional funding to make up the difference. We received donations and three grants that were used for the Pilot Study. Over ninety veterans within just seven counties received much needed dental care they could not have obtained elsewhere.
Another primary stakeholder in this collaboration has been NC Serves, a part of America Serves. They are a robust organization offering a wide continuum of services to America’s Veterans. NC Serves Western ensured our veterans were qualified and enrolled in all available programs, and also determined a reference point for financial need towards the dental services to be provided. A mutual agreement between the ECU SoDM and NC Serves also ensures the most reasonable cost for dental services.
The most important component of our effort has been our special veterans. They have showed up when asked, completed their due diligence, and fulfilled every task requested. We even asked them to give back to the program as they saw fit, and they have responded like the true patriots we all knew they would be.
Two unexpected benefits surfaced during the Pilot Study.
• One private Dentist was motivated by the program and decided to offer his dental services pro bono to one veteran. The selected veteran eventually received much needed dentures that completely changed his life.
• Numerous veterans were not registered in their respective counties. We worked with NC Serves to serve as the catalyst to officially introduce them to their respective Veterans Service Offices, which opened up the wide array of both family support (NC Serves) and veteran’s service support opportunities for them.
The Pilot Study ended in December 2020, and showed how such an innovative project can succeed, especially with the right partners on board. My original SMOF group was dissolved (due to the narrow seven county scope) and Veteran Smiles Foundation (VSF) was created. All remaining funds were transferred to the VSF and we are now intent to broaden the VET SMILES program statewide, using the eight ECU CSLCs network as the core sites for veterans to receive their dental care (adding one per year).
This will require more effort on all parties, and for the ultimate expansion of VSF support to all eight of ECU’s CSLC statewide, more funding. We would like for this program to one day become self-sustaining through consistent grant funding and donations, coupled with the other financial resources utilized by the CSLC’s. As Dean Chadwick of the ECU’s SoDM (also a veteran) says, “we want our CSLC’s to be the dental home for participating veterans.”
VSF is now located in Wake Forest, NC and we are planning ECU Smiles for Veterans events in 2021 for Sylva, NC and also in Eastern NC at the Brunswick County ECU CSLC in Bolivia. We need more partners to help fund the VET SMILES program.
This letter seeks your assistance in getting the veterans enrolled with YOU in the Veterans Service Offices at the North Carolina county and/or regional level. As a veteran seeks emergency dental care at an ECU CSLC, I have asked them to call whichever office oversees the address the veteran provides to confirm eligibility.
The VET SMILES program has proven it can work, but I need your help to keep it going and expand it. I hope you would nominate at least one veteran from your county who needs financial support to participate, especially in the ECU Smiles for Veterans effort.
Again, my name is (Colonel, Retired) David E. McCracken, VSF Founder.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 984.233.3350.
The principal consultant to VSF is (Lieutenant Colonel, Retired) Jesse A. McCorvey, at email@example.com or 984.233.3297.
David E McCracken
Founder, Veteran Smiles Foundation
Counties Serviced in Our Pilot Scope:
Providing Dental Services to Veterans in Need in North Carolina
Veteran Smiles Foundation is a nonprofit, public charity corporation whose purpose is to educate, advocate for and provide financial support to, qualified, eligible veterans in North Carolina seeking improved oral health.
Veteran Smiles Foundation serves as a catalyst among stakeholder organizations such as the East Carolina University School of Dental Medicine and its multiple extramural dental clinics, state and county veterans service offices, other nonprofit organizations (such as NC Serves) to support and serve eligible North Carolina veterans with access to improved oral health.