Veterans Helping Veterans
Generations of College of Dentistry students and alumni have practiced dentistry in the armed forces following graduation. Now, several current student veterans have found a way to marry their allegiance to the military with their love for dentistry before leaving the college. In 2015, dental students and military veterans Andrew Ryser ’19 (DDS) and Mark Ruther ’18 (DDS) started the Armed Forces Club to support and provide services to veteran students and patients.
“Some of the activities we’ve done for patients who are veterans are especially helpful for people transitioning from military life to civilian life when maybe their benefits didn’t carry over or they just haven’t taken the time to seek regular dental care,” said Mr. Ruther. He cited support from the college and from Ohio State’s Military and Veterans Services Office as key to helping the Armed Forces Club’s programs succeed.
"Part of the Give Veterans A Smile mission is promoting the importance of good dental healthcare,"
In November, after primarily focusing on building student practices that serve veteran patients, the members of the Armed Forces Club worked closely with the college’s clinic administration team to present an inaugural Give Veterans a Smile (GVAS) event. Modeled after the American Dental Association’s annual Give Kids A Smile event, student and faculty practitioners—many of whom are veterans—provided free dental screenings and x-rays for Ohio State student veterans. Encouraged by the response to the first GVAS event, the Armed Forces Club and the college are looking forward to expanding the event beyond campus to the greater Columbus veteran community this upcoming November.
“The GI Bill does cover dental care, but there is a good percentage of students here who don’t have dental benefits because they haven’t signed up. Also, a lot of younger people sometimes neglect their dental care. Part of the GVAS mission is promoting the importance of good dental healthcare,” Mr. Ruther said.
Ruther, who is now the Armed Forces Club president as well as a Veteran Community Advocate through the Military and Veterans Services Office, is beginning a second career in dentistry. He graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2007 and served as a pilot and instructor for seven years before he took a military medical retirement in 2014 with the rank of Captain.
Now a student dentist, Mr. Ruther’s greatest satisfaction comes from discovering another way to serve. “Service is a life-long thing. Even though my military career ended prematurely for me, I want to continue to serve. There’s a lot of satisfaction in working with a team and sharing a collective goal to complete something—whether it’s a mission overseas, or a training mission back home, or providing dental care to veterans in need. You’re putting yourselves out there and giving it your all.”