When one of the teeth cracked in 2000, he dug out the pieces with a clamp. He excavated fragments of another with needle-nose pliers.
“They worked just fine,” he told me.
But really, they didn’t: A jagged shard remains, and his gum has started to grow over it.
After the Army, Whiting served in the Maryland National Guard and held a number of jobs: delivering flowers, delivering pizza, doing construction work. Some provided dental insurance, but his portion of the bill always seemed too much.
He kept living with the holes, chewing children’s aspirin to dull the pain.
Then earlier this month, Whiting decided to address the problem. He moved to Norfolk from the Washington area and tried the Hampton VA Medical Center.
Without firm answers, he next showed up at the Health Fair for Veterans in Chesapeake, looking for someone to help him navigate the VA paperwork.
“I’m always optimistic,” Whiting, 39, said as he waited his turn. “You never know.”
Around him in the lobby and farther back in the Lifestyle Center on the Chesapeake Regional Medical Center campus, an army of volunteers wearing name tags and red ribbons readied piles of clipboards and rows of tables. Eager representatives set up posters and brochures for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Virginia Wounded Warrior Program, Tidewater Community College and others.
Beyond them, a triage area awaited, equipped with scales and blood pressure stations. A row of makeshift, white-partitioned exam rooms lined the back wall, labeled by specialty: dental, dermatology, women’s health and more.
Soon, the veterans would arrive, each with a volunteer to escort them from station to station.
Volunteer physicians would dole out screenings, advice and referrals to other doctors, who likely would be able see the veterans within weeks, said retired Army Col. Jim Ireland.
“You do that in the VA,” he said, “it could be months.”
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