NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES
After watching his mouth deteriorate for the past six years, Brad Gotschall thought this day would ever come.
He's sitting in the chair of Dallas dentist Dr. Richard Beadle. The next day he'll have most of the crumbling teeth in his mouth pulled.
"I'm donating my time and services," Dr. Beadle said. "The laboratory who fabricated the dentures donated their services."
Beadle is one of a dozen dentists nationwide who are helping vets through a non-profit organization originally known as Iraq Star. It's initial mission was to provide cosmetic plastic surgery to Iraq veterans.
But the war in Afghanistan made the problem bigger, so founder Maggie Lockridge changed the name to Rebuilding America's Warriors (RAW).
Then she began hearing from vets with mouth disease.
"I kind of thought about it as the Agent Orange of Iraq, because it is a by-product of having been in a war," said Lockridge, a former plastic surgery nurse. "It is something that they acquired when they were in the theater. It is a war injury."
Dr. Terry Rees, Director of Stomatology at Baylor College of Dentistry, reviewed the information News 8 collected from vets with dental problems, and he also interviewed Brad Gotschall.
"There is a correlation in the experience between the conditions you described and their tour in Iraq and their dental health," Dr. Rees concluded.
Dr. Rees doesn't have enough information to determine how vets with normal mouths before they went to war developed problems. One basic cause, he thinks, might be stress.
Daniel Rogers, an Iraq vet from Tallahassee who also being helped by Rebuilding America's Warriors, knows very well what combat stress is like. For nine months in 2004, Rogers patrolled an area southeast of Sadr City in Baghdad known as Sector 17.
"You can't put a level on how scary it was," Rogers said. "We had an eight-hour shift. You had three patrols in that eight-hour shift."
Each patrol covered at least five miles. Rogers carried an M249 machine gun, along with 50 pounds of ammunition and gear.
Shortly after returning from Iraq, Rogers' teeth started disintegrating. Through Rebuilding America's Warriors, he's had more than half his teeth pulled and dentures made.
"I ended up getting $13,000 donated to fix my whole face. I'll never be able to show my appreciation," he said.
The Veterans Administration says it has no statistical information on chronic dental problems among Iraq vets. The VA only provides dental care to veterans who've been 100 percent disabled by other injuries.
Back in his office, Dr. Beadle explained his involvement in the RAW program.
"We've all heard stories about doctors doing things for vets," he said. "Dentists don't get an opportunity to do that, right? So it's my time to do a little something."
The problem is, there are far more veterans in need than there are money and dentists to provide the care.
"My message to the government would be to please go back and re-address this problem," said Maggie Lockridge.
Brad Gotschall now has new teeth, a new mouth, and — since he's no longer embarrassed to smile — a new life.
It's unknown how many vets are waiting for a happy ending like his.