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'CU Heroes Clinic' Keeps Colorado Veterans Smiling

By Kathy Walsh

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) - The University of Colorado is dedicated to helping keep Colorado veterans smiling. The CU School of Dental Medicine runs the "CU Heroes Clinic" on the Anschutz Campus.

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It is a program of free and discounted dental care for men and women who have served in the armed forces.

The Department of Veterans Affairs only offers dental care for veterans who are 100% disabled or have a service-connected injury to their mouth.

The Heroes Clinic is one of a kind, serving those who served.

Joe Robbins is a Vietnam veteran who has some sensitivity in a tooth. On a Monday in November, Jeff Harbaugh, a fourth year dental student, is taking a look.

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They are at the Heroes Clinic. It was set up in 2014 to serve the smiles of military veterans.

"This is the greatest thing that's happened to me," said Robbins.

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CBS4's Kathy Walsh interviews Joe Robbins. (credit: CBS)

He and his PTSD service dog, Grace, first came to the clinic about a year ago. Robbins said pain medication had damaged his teeth.

"The two right in the front, kind of fell out. It was terrible," he told CBS4 Health Specialist Kathy Walsh.

Senior dental students, like Harbaugh, got to work. Within a year, Robbins had two partial dentures and a brand new smile ... free of charge.

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"Just want to say 'Hi' and talk to people," said a grinning Robbins. "Engage, yeah, it brought that back."

"The need is beyond belief," explained Heidi Tyrell, Director of Clinical Operations.

Tyrell said the clinic has served more than 1,000 men and women who have served our country.

"Some of these veterans come in with nothing but broken root tips," she said.

The care is life-changing and sometimes, lifesaving.

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(credit: CBS)

"As one of my Vietnam veterans said to me, 'Every tooth you fix pushes me farther and farther away from thoughts of suicide,'" said Tyrell.

The clinic, funded by Delta Dental of Colorado and the CU School of Dental Medicine, is one of a kind. Tyrell's wish is to see the program grow.

"To see them smile again," she said, "There's not more deserving patients."

All honorably discharged veterans in Colorado are eligible for treatment at the CU Heroes Clinic with free and reduced prices for qualified veterans.

LINK: CU Heroes Clinic

Kathy Walsh is CBS4's Weekend Anchor and Health Specialist. She has been with CBS4 since 1984. She is always open to story ideas. Follow Kathy on Twitter @WalshCBS4.

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