ADA asks Congress to consider upgrading rank for military chief dental officers

Association also asks lawmakers to make Veterans Affairs Dentistry head directly report to Under Secretary for Health

Image of Capitol dome

The American Dental Association is asking Congress to restore the two-star rank or higher for the chief dental officers of the Army and Air Force. The letter also asked the lawmakers to upgrade the rank of the Navy’s chief dental officer to two stars in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.

In a Nov. 2 letter to the House and Senate Committees on Armed Services, ADA President George R. Shepley, D.D.S., and Executive Director Raymond A. Cohlmia, D.D.S., said that “good oral health is essential to military readiness and the general health of service members and maintaining the historic rank of chief dental officers will ensure that oral health is not treated as a secondary concern.”

In the letter, Drs. Shepley and Cohlmia said the statutory rank of major general for the chief dentist of the Army was long-standing, having been established by Public Law 95-485 in 1978 and noted that in 2006, Congress required that the chief dentist of the Air Force have the rank of major general as well.

“Congress made this change to Title 10 out of a recognition that not only should there be parity of grade for the chief dental officers of the Army and Air Force, but also because of the importance of oral health for medical readiness and timely deployment of the members of the armed forces,” wrote Drs. Shepley and Cohlmia.

The letter went on to say that the Navy also previously recognized the importance of oral health for military readiness by supporting changes to Title 10, Section 5138, that would have achieved rank parity for the Navy Dental Corps Chief but noted the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act eliminated the statutory rank requirements for chief dental officer.

“No chief dental officer currently has a two-star rank,” Drs. Shepley and Cohlmia said. “Restoring historic ranks for the chief dental officer of the Army and Air Force and achieving parity for the Navy would not present a significant cost, since there is only one general or flag officer in the Dental Corps of the Army, Air Force and Navy. The difference in cost would be limited to the difference in compensation for a one-star and a two-star office.”

“Dental readiness in the military is a critically important issue for overall medical readiness,” the letter continued. “The ADA believes that a diminution of dentistry’s position with the respective surgeon generals’ offices may prevent dental readiness from being maintained and improved. Failure to maintain the ranks of the chief dental officers’ risks many of the gains the services have recently made towards the overall dental health levels necessary to support national defense.”

The ADA is also concerned that if Congress does not restore the chief dental officers’ ranks it will have a negative impact on the recruitment and retention of military dental officers as military dentists may view a lower rank for chief dental officers as a sign that the military is not emphasizing oral health or recognizing the contribution of military dentists to national defense.

Additionally, the ADA said it supports a two-star rank for the Chief Dental Office of the United States Public Health Service.

The Association also sent a Nov. 2 letter to leaders of the House and Senate Committees on Veterans’ Affairs asking lawmakers to restore the head of the office of Veterans Affairs Dentistry to directly reporting to the Under Secretary for Health, or the equivalent of the military two star rank or higher.

"VA Dentistry offers care to over 1.3 million eligible veterans at more than two hundred clinic locations across the country," Drs. Shepley and Cohlmia wrote. "The comprehensive, often complex nature of the dental care offered through the large number of clinics across the country requires a head of VA Dentistry with the authority and scope to ensure that the dental care offered by the VA remains a well-coordinated priority."

The letter stated that the ADA is “concerned that not elevating the head of VA Dentistry to at least an equivalent level of reporting as other Assistant Under Secretaries, or the equivalent of a two star rank or higher, will have a negative impact on the recruitment and retention of VA dentists. VA dentists may view a lower organizational position for the head of VA Dentistry as a sign that the VA is not emphasizing oral health, and that it does not recognize the contribution of VA dentists to the overall health of eligible veterans.”

Follow all the ADA’s advocacy efforts and ADA.org/advocacy.