She said the vets' lack of self-esteem is obvious when they first visit. Many put their hands over their mouths when they talk because they don't want anyone to see their teeth. It's the same for everyone — they're in their 30s, 40s, 50s and even 60s, mostly men but a few women. Some acknowledge not having brushed in a year.

Once the work is done, Chenowith said, "They're all smiles. They feel good about the way they look."

That confidence, as well as other services, can help pull some vets out of the downward spiral that often results from addiction, mental health issues and medical problems, as well as homelessness, said Patricia Lane, acting homeless clinical manager for the VA Maryland Health Care System.

The VA estimates there are more than 107,000 homeless vets on any given night nationwide, roughly a third of all homeless Americans. More than a half-million more are at risk, according to veterans' groups.

In the Baltimore region, there are an estimated 3,000 homeless veterans. The goal is to find them all stable places to live, and so far locally 300 have been placed in permanent housing and another 450 are in temporary housing. Vets must be in temporary housing for 60 days to be eligible for dental care.

Lane said the Baltimore area has seen an uptick in veterans receiving dental care because officials have been more aggressive about recruiting them, and the collaboration with Maryland allows the VA to see more patients in a timely manner. The VA also runs two local dental clinics.

"The needs continue to be demonstrated," Lane said. "And the gentlemen look so different when they get their teeth fixed. It's delightful. Now they have a sense of pride. They no longer are embarrassed, and they are better prepared for employment."

Mumford thinks so. He's hoping to get a job and go back to school. He'd like to become a certified nursing assistant. For now, he's looking forward to something simpler.

"I'd really like to have an apple," he said. "And peanuts."

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