Chicago group helps veterans smile

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -- Veterans often come home with dental problems, but the Veterans Administration does not cover all of their needs. That’s why a Chicago VFW auxiliary is stepping in to help.

Charles Medalis was in the army during the Vietnam war and he was a force to be reckoned with.  After Vietnam, Medalis was forced to live with what the VA offered him.

"You deal with what you get. The same thing in the service, you deal with what you get," said Medalis.  "I had several infections in my mouth, so they said they could pull my teeth, but they wouldn't give me dentures."

While a mouth with no teeth did provide relief from pain, it did not give him his smile back.  Then he discovered Smiles for Veterans, which was founded by Patricia DeVore. In two years, the program has funded dental work for five veterans. DeVore was inspired by her brother’s struggles with his own teeth after he came home from service.

"When he opened his mouth, I was mortified. His teeth were all broken, half of them he had pulled out with pliers," DeVore said.  "I said, ‘I’ll bet you really miss eating the foods you loved.’  And he said, ‘Sis, it isn't the food I miss. It's smiling.’"

Yorkville dentist Dr. Eric Mitra fixed an infection suffered by one veteran.

"For me, to be able to give thanks to a veteran is huge," Mitra said.

Medalis says the help changed his life.

"It gives you more confidence.  Now I can smile.  Before, I’d never let my mouth be open wide enough to be seen," he said.

The average cost for these dental procedures is over $1,000 per veteran. Smiles for Veterans is looking for private and corporate donors to keep the program going. 

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