In the News
October 16, 2019
Steve Gatlin & Timothy J. Wahle, DDS: V.E.T.S. Mobile Dental Unit
By Charlie Swanson
For 10 years, Steve Gatlin served in the Marine Corps, first as a military police officer, then as a combat correspondent. When his enlistment ended in 2002, Gatlin quickly made his way into making documentary
films and television programs. “The documentary work got me into humanitarian causes, and I found my niche doing work around a lot of nonprofits,” says Gatlin. “I was covering everything from environmental to special needs causes and everything in between.”
Through this work, the Novato based Gatlin met Napa dentist Dr. Timothy Wahle eight years ago. “We both have children with Down syndrome and we met through that world,” Gatlin says. Last year, Wahle approached Gatlin with an idea. For 20 years, Wahle participated in a mobile dental project called Christina’s Smile, that worked in cooperation with the Professional Golfers’ Association to travel to and provide comprehensive charitable dental care to children in need in the communities that hosted a PGA and Champions Tour tournament. “When the tour would come to Silverado or Sonoma or Pebble Beach, he would go and volunteer for a day or two and do free dental care,” says Gatlin.
That organization, based in Austin, Texas, closed in 2016, shortly after co-founder Dr. Richard Garza passed away in 2013. Wahle wanted to buy one of the group’s three 50-foot, three-chair mobile dental units in storage and move it to the North Bay. “We started kicking the idea around and started talking about the military-veterans angle,” says Gatlin. “For military veterans, in order to get (free) dental care you have to be 100 percent disabled, have been a prisoner of war or have a service-connected dental issue. That equates to a very low percentage of veterans.”
This year, Gatlin and Wahle combined their nonprofit and dental experience to form the V.E.T.S. (Veterans Excited To Smile) Mobile Dental Unit nonprofit organization. In March, they traveled to Austin to meet with Dr. Garza’s widow and Christina’s Smile co-founder, Diane Garza. After speaking to her about her work and their ideas, Garza donated one of the state-of-the-art trailers to them.
Now, Gatlin and Wahle are finalizing their nonprofit status and preparing the unit for a rollout in early 2020. The V.E.T.S. Mobile Dental Unit’s first clinic will likely be held in association with the Novato Elks Lodge, where Gatlin is a member, and where the nonprofit recently held a massive fundraiser and golf tournament.
“Veterans are everywhere, so the sky’s the limit on where we can go; it’s just a matter of capitalizing on the resources we have,” says Gatlin. While it’s a brand-new nonprofit, Gatlin notes that Christina’s Smile lends V.E.T.S. Mobile Dental Unit 30 years of experience. Garza is even on the board of directors. “We’ve got a real powerhouse board of directors pulled together; a mixture of veterans, dentists and businesspeople. I’m excited, as executive director, to have a rich pool to pull from just in our board alone,” says Gatlin. “There’s no end to the amount of veterans we can help with this.”