USC University of Southern California

USC Mobile Dental Clinic Cares for Vets at 2011 Compton Stand Down

Hundreds of disadvantaged military veterans received medical help, counseling, employment assistance and other services as part of the 8th annual Compton Stand Down organized by the nonprofit group US Vets September 24-26, 2011.

According to USVetsinc.org, the name “Stand Down” comes from a term used in time of war when exhausted combat units requiring time to rest and recover were removed from the battlefields to a place of relative security and safety.Now the name of a series of grassroots, community-based intervention programs, Stand Downs are designed to help the nation’s estimated 150,000 homeless veterans “combat” life on the streets.

“We hold the Stand Down events to get the community involved,” said Stephen Peck, President and CEO of US Vets. “When veterans become homeless, they become isolated. We need to let them know that people care about them.”

For the first time in the event’s history, free dental care was available to veterans through the Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC Mobile Dental Clinic. Members of the DDS classes of 2012 and 2013 as well as residents of the School’s Advanced Endodontics program worked with faculty members to provide restorations, extractions, root canal treatment, and referrals for further care to nearly 130 patients over the course of two days.

Kerry Zavala sitting in a dental chair smiling“We especially want to help them get pain-free and infection-free,” said Santosh Sundaresan, Director of the USC Mobile Dental Clinic. “And if they need treatment that that can’t be performed today, or if they need follow-up care, we’re also providing referrals to other free and low-cost clinics in the area.”

Mobile Dental Clinic patient Edward Scott, an Army veteran, said he was looking forward to receiving dental care in the Mobile Clinic and felt the care and services at the Stand Down were absolutely necessary for veterans.

“When you come out of the service, you feel like you’ve lost a weapon,” he said. “You really want to feel protected again.”

Marine Corps veteran Kerry Zavala, who has not been able to find full-time employment since 2003, said he hadn’t received dental care since 1997 and that the poor condition of his teeth lessens his chances of getting hired.

“I’m trying to do everything I can to get on my feet,” he said. “First impressions when you’re trying to get a job are really hard when you have bad teeth – this is a big help.”

Thomas Levy, Director of Undergraduate Endodontics, said taking part in the Stand Down was extremely important on many fronts.

“For me, personally, it’s very fulfilling to give back in this way, and it’s also a good experience for students,” he said. “After taking part in events like this, we really expect our graduates to continue this kind of service.”

Conan Teng, a volunteer from the DDS class of 2013, agreed.

“It’s really good for us to get out into the community, and it makes me happy to be helping the veterans today,” he said. “It’s important for us to treat not only a variety of pathologies but also a variety of people. It’s a really good learning experience.”

Levy added that the most important aspect of the Stand Down was giving back to those who have already given so much for the rest of the nation.

“Veterans need our help, and they have tremendous stories to share,” he said. “We can give back a little bit of self-confidence; this event allows us to give back a little tiny bit in comparison to what they’ve done for us.”