Many veterans say getting the Department of Veterans Affairs to grant them the benefits they've earned is like pulling teeth.
The VA actually pulled Anthony Basti's teeth. He wants it to finish the dental work he believes should have followed.
He said that after his teeth were extracted, the VA realized it had misclassified his benefits level. It told him he shouldn't have received the treatments he got and did not qualify for implants he wanted for the teeth that were pulled.
Basti, of Hanover Township, Northampton County, believes he is entitled to additional care, regardless of whether he qualifies for it, because it's a continuation of treatment the VA provided him in error due to its misclassification.
"It's a betrayal of trust," said Basti, 81.
After the Watchdog asked the VA about his situation, it looks like he may get his chance.
In a written statement Thursday, the VA New Jersey Health Care System told me that earlier this year the agency expanded the care included under Basti's benefits classification. The agency said he could pursue implants, just not in the New Jersey system where he'd been treated because officials there consider the procedure to be too risky.
When I relayed the good news to Basti, he said it was news to him. He said the VA never told him about his expanded benefits. The VA told me that Basti was informed earlier this year during a dental appointment.
Basti also told me he'd never been told implants wouldn't be done by the VA in New Jersey, where he used to live, because of medical concerns. He said he always had been told it was because he wasn't eligible.
He said he will pursue his options by working through the VA patient advocate's office.
As you honor veterans Monday on Veterans Day, don't forget that the fight for many of them often involves conquering their own government's bureaucracy.
Basti told me he doesn't think he ever would have heard about his expanded benefits if he hadn't contacted the Watchdog and I hadn't contacted the VA.
"Where would I have been without the story?" Basti said.
He told me his mouth had been a wreck since the early 1950s as a result of two injuries during his time in the service. He said he was sucker punched during a mugging at Biggs Air Force Base in El Paso, Texas, and then was hit in the face with a baseball during an intramural game.
The VA in New Jersey pulled four of his upper teeth — three of them molars — in 2005. It pulled two of his lower molars in 2010.
Basti told me he would not have agreed to have his teeth pulled without the understanding that there was at least a chance to have them replaced with implants. Though he acknowledges implants never were guaranteed or promised, he said the treatment had been working toward that possibility when it stopped in 2010 due to the misclassification of his benefits.
Buying them on his own would be pricey. Implants can cost between $3,000 and $4,500 per tooth, according to an article last year by Money Magazine.
VA records say Basti was told in April 2010 that he qualified for Class IIA care, not the Class I care he'd been treated under, and that his benefits would apply to treatment for only a few lower front teeth.
"Based on this information, we could only offer partials, not implants," his clinical notes from then say.
Basti told me he took his case to a VA patient advocate, which he said prompted the agency to provide implants for the two lower teeth in 2011. But it refused to do anything further.