Many small organizations help veterans with very specific needs, sometimes serving a dozen or so veterans at a time without the need or desire for expansion or national attention. Why are they important?
AUSTIN, Texas – Fresh from the Marine Corps and readjusting to civilian life as a college student in North Texas, Jason McClure was washing his hands when he heard something fall into the sink. It was piece of his front tooth.
That day in 2010 was the beginning of a downward spiral of dental problems that began during his final year in the military. The pain and anxiety it created only exacerbated the post–traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury he suffers from a deployment in Afghanistan.
McClure went to a private dentist, who was convinced his problems stemmed from drug use and said all they could do was pull McClure’s teeth and fit him for dentures.
He was still in his 20s.
“I couldn’t look anybody in the eyes, because I didn’t trust them,” said McClure, now 31. “Every doctor I’d gone to for a tooth or anything else called me a liar. I went from being Marine Special Ops to being called a liar. So I wouldn’t bother looking anybody in the eye anymore.”
He quit school and said he became a shut-in. His mother, desperate to help, reached out to an organization called Rebuilding America’s Warriors (R.A.W.) that offers free dental treatment for veterans whose problems began as a result of their military service. The nonprofit began in 2007 providing plastic surgery to wounded and disfigured veterans and added dentistry nearly three years ago.
Maggie Lockridge, a registered nurse and former member of the US Air Force Nurse Corps, founded R.A.W., using her contacts from the cosmetic and reconstructive surgery recovery center she owned in Beverly Hills to provide surgeries for wounded or disfigured warriors. She branched out to dentistry after receiving many inquiries from veterans.
Dr. David Wilhite, a dentist in Plano, Texas, who has worked on more than 50 veterans for R.A.W., repaired the damage to McClure’s mouth by pulling only one tooth.
R.A.W. is one of about 38,000 veteran-serving charities in the United States. The nonprofits range from well-known – Wounded Warrior Project, the American Legion – to smaller, more niche groups such as R.A.W., which meet specific, under-the-radar needs.