Struggling Veterans Offered Free Dental Care - WMBB News 13 - The Panhandle's News Leader

Struggling Veterans Offered Free Dental Care

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When you're a homeless veteran, a healthy smile might be hard to come by. But, dental students at Gulf Coast State College are hoping to change that by offering them free dental care.

These students are honoring these veterans and ensuring they can stand tall and smile with pride.

Some say a person's smile tells a lot about them, but 14 year Army veteran, Willie Clark, admitted he hasn't smiled much lately and his new wife has had enough.

"Right now she ain't too happy because I don't smile. She's always saying, "Man, SMILE sometime!" She thinks I'm mad. I'm not mad; I'm just not fixing to show my teeth," joked Clark.

Clark is one of many military veterans at the clinic who have served their country, but for one reason or another have fallen on hard times and haven't had access to dental care.

For Clark, it's been over 25 years.

"If you don't have a house, you gotta make do. So anything like these programs, it helps," said Clark.

For dental hygiene student and Air Force veteran, Lisa Jenkins, the clinic takes on a deeper meaning.

"They gave a lot and a lot give the ultimate sacrifice. So, like I said, I'm honored to give back, but I wish there was more that we could do. But to give back in this way, it makes my heart happy and I'm so honored to be able to do that," said Jenkins.

Dental program teacher, Dr. Elivra Chiccarelli, also knows what it means to serve her country. The Air Force veteran stressed the importance of giving back to struggling veterans.

"We don't always understand how difficult it was for them to go overseas, be deployed, leave their families," Chiccarelli said.

She believes programs like these give a much needed boost to vets who may be feeling hopeless or worthless back at home.

"I think they want to give back, but some are just not well enough to be able to do that," she said.

That's where these students come in; not simply cleaning teeth, but creating smiles.

"It kinda pumps you up, you know what I'm saying? Makes you want to do more and get better," added Willie Clark.

The clinic is a part of ‘Veteran Stand Down', which is working to turn the term "homeless veteran" into an oxymoron.