Chris Lunsford of Semmes joined the military shortly after 9-11. He was in Baghdad in April, 2004.
"We in a convoy, driving through Baghdad," said Lunsford. "The truck I was riding in was hit by a roadside bomb. The driver, the gunner – they both died. And I received a penetrating head wound."
After numerous brain surgeries and care in Iraq, Germany, and state side, Lunsford was discharged, but only with a few bottom teeth. The rest had been blown out
"The teeth were actually blown out," said Lunsford. "The doctors in the Army wanted to pull the rest and put in permanent dentures and I told them we weren't going to do that."
His front top teeth were replaced at Keesler AFB but then Department of Defense rules changed and he was no longer eligible for treatment. That began a six year odyssey Lunsford says involved a mountain of paperwork, miles of red tape, and no new teeth. After writing U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions, Lunsford finally was sent to a dentist at the Veterans Administration in 2011. But the problem was far from solved.
"I've gotten one toot in two years," said Lunsford.
Dr Jeffrey Taylor is Lunsford's V.A. dentist
"In 20012 we really only had two dentists seeing patients in Biloxi, and our appointment time, wait time, was six months for an appointment," said Taylor.
Since the implant procedure is multi-faceted and often requires several appointments per tooth, Lunsford has made little progress. Dr. Taylor says he understands the frustration.
"Of course," said Taylor. "Sure. I mean, nobody wants to wait."
Lunsford says he wants out of the V.A. system.
"I'm chewing on my gums," said Lunsford. "I've been chewing on my gums for nine years. I'm tired of waiting. I want teeth. I would like the VA to subcontract this out to somebody in Mobile that can do the implants and do them quick. Not nine more years down the road."
Dr. Taylor, however, says subcontracting out has only become a V.A. option in the last year. In Lunsford's case, he says, it wouldn't make sense, since most of the difficult and time consuming implant work has already been done.
"The restorations are being fabricated in the lab as we speak," said Taylor.
So Lunsford's in limbo, not sure what he'll do.
"I don't want to go back. I really don't want to go back. I'm tired of being let down by the V.A."