RENO, Nev. (KOLO) -- There is hope for veterans in need of dental care with no place to turn. An army of dentists across the northern Nevada region is ready and willing to help.
Tiffany Swisher knows the stress and pain of living with major dental problems. This episode in her life started ten years ago. "I was diagnosed with adult onset epilepsy," she said.
This nerve disorder causes seizures. Her doctor found the right concoction of drugs to stop them, but this cure came with major side effects.
"The drugs that were saving my life started doing permanent destructive damage to my teeth," Tiffany said.
The drugs were eroding her enamel and causing her teeth to chip and fall apart.
"It's really hard to look in the mirror and see problems with your teeth happening day by day, and know that if you want to survive you still have to take the medication that's causing that problem... so you get caught in the cycle of having nowhere to turn. No dental coverage through the VA. I personally have gone through a lot of avenues trying to find help," she said.
She found nothing. In desperation, her family took out a $14,000 loan.
"I had to have a lot of root canals, a lot of crowns put on in order to save the teeth," she said.
Her teeth needed so much more and that's when she says she stumbled across the Adopt A Vet Dental program. Her four years of service in the Air Force qualifies her for this program.
"I called...at first it sounded too good to be true...but I took a chance and I got put on that waiting list and I was on that for a year or so," Tiffany recalled.
The Adopt A Vet program paired Tiffany with Dr. Robert Devin. "The experience to me was life-changing because once I got involved in the program I was with a dentist who could fix the problems," Tiffany said.
A dental hygienist cleaned her teeth. Dr. Devin gave her fillings, fixed some crowns, and bonded some of her broken teeth.
"With every appointment that I went into I walked out feeling better and better about myself. Dr. Devin was great. He went above and beyond. Every visit went smooth. Every visit he asked me, 'Is there anything else I can do for you?'"
Tiffany enjoys a perfect smile today. She says Dr. Devin restored her confidence when he fixed her teeth.
"A lot of these ladies when we get them back to some sort of normal face (and) normal smile, they go on to start new careers. They start new families," Dr. Devin says.
KOLO 8 News Now's Noah Bond asked Dr. Devin why he cares enough to donate his time and skills to help veterans. "I'm one of them," he responded.
He joined the reserves when he was 22 years old because he likes ships and because members of his family and relatives fought in World War II, the Korean War, and even in the Revolutionary War.
He says the dental work he performed on prisoners of war who survived World War II in Asia changed him. "You meet people like that and they are very... It humbles you to see these guys," Dr. Devin said.
He says most of these good men don't qualify for VA care and they can't afford the care they need.
"Some of them have very severe conditions. Many are fragile," Dr. Devin said.
He says many veterans have similar qualities including humility and forgiveness, and many focus on the future.
"It certainly humbles you to think that you have the privilege to provide your services. Your skills to make their lives better... to see people who are frankly heroes. Who have stood unflinching in looking at death and torture," said Dr. Devin.
He has voluntarily helped dozens and dozens of veterans.
"They all have a story," he said musing about his many past experiences. "Sometimes they're funny and sometimes you wish they hadn't shared it with you," he said.
He says not because the story was terrible, but because it was sad.
Linda Haigh is the founder of the Adopt Vet dental program and is responsible for pairing Tiffany with Dr. Devin.
She says like Tiffany, 90 percent of veterans don't get the dental care they need because the qualifications for dental care are extremely restrictive and this is the reason the Adopt A Vet dental program targets low-income veterans. She says there is no other program like this in the country.
Tiffany is now giving back as a gesture of gratitude for the help she received. Each week she reports to the Adopt A Vet office in Reno. "Adopt A Vet Dental. Tiffany speaking. May I help you?" she says into a phone.
"This program was so life-changing to me that I felt a need to pay it forward, and so now I volunteer with the program," she said.
She works in the Adopt A Vet office once a week from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. She meets with veterans to check them into the program. One good deed is rippling forward and now helping hundreds of others.
Tiffany says she feels happy, but admits another emotion occasionally floods across her body. "I felt saddened that this program... there were so many vets out there that need this kind of help and they don't have it."
"Give us a call. We're here to help. It's part of our job. We're glad to do it. As far as I'm concerned it's part of their pay and they already earned it," Dr. Devin said.
Northern Nevada Dental Health Programs was a 2018 KOLOCares Pillar Partner.