By Jessica Mathews /

A picnic luncheon held Friday afternoon celebrated the first year of a program that provides free dental care to low-income area veterans.

The Victors for Veterans Program is a partnership between the University of Michigan Dental School and VINA Community Dental Center, a non-profit outreach facility in Brighton that provides affordable dental care and education to Livingston County residents with limited finances. .It’s a free program for disabled and homeless veterans and others who qualify through a vetting process. Supporters, volunteers, board members, students and dentists attended the event.

The clinic operates under the direction of Dr. Howard A. Hamerink. It’s an all-volunteer operation supported by donors. Hamerink said demand is high and there’s a lot of need in the area, noting they also need to have experienced clinicians due to the complexity of the population they serve, which has a lot of special needs. He said they provide a full service and comprehensive care model and not just simple drill, fill or pull types of work.

One veteran in attendance who benefited from the clinic was James who thanked Dr. Fred Bonine for telling him about the clinic. In sharing his story, James said he was pretty depressed when he came to the clinic as he didn’t have any teeth and didn’t know what he was going to do. James joked that he’s still depressed but at least he can smile now. He thanked everyone and the care meant the world to him because otherwise he “would be riding around Brighton with no teeth”.

Another veteran who spoke was Miguel, who said he really enjoys his new set of chompers and is finally able to enjoy granola and peanuts again – adding without the program, he didn’t think he would have and appreciates everything.

Two check presentations capped off the event.

The clinic was able to convert to digital x-rays thanks to a fundraising campaign and generous donors. A surprise check for $10,000 was presented by First United Methodist Church to support the work of the clinic, which leases the building to VINA. Pastor Jon Reynolds said they’re grateful for all of the services VINA provides and the reputation it has in the community for providing excellent dental care. He said they’re honored to be a small part of the incredible work being done at the clinic.

Seed money for the Victors for Veterans program was though the Michigan Dental Association Foundation and a check for $45,000 was presented, which initially had to be postponed due to the pandemic.