ADA asks Congress to upgrade rank of military chief dental officers

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The ADA is asking lawmakers to upgrade the rank of military chief dental officers and to make the U.S. Veterans Affairs Dentistry head report directly to the undersecretary for health.

In a letter written on November 2 to the U.S. House and Senate committees on armed services, ADA President George Shepley and Executive Director Raymond Cohlmia said, "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."

The ADA is urging Congress to reinstate the two-star rank or higher for chief dental officers of the U.S. Army and Air Force. In the letter, Shepley and Cohlmia said the statutory rank of major general for the chief dentist of the Army was established in 1978. In 2006, Congress required that the chief dentist of the Air Force have the rank of major general too.

Shepley and Cohlmia explained that Congress made this change out of the recognition that there should be parity of grade for the chief dental officers and because of the importance of oral health for medical readiness and timely deployment.

The letter also stated that the U.S. Navy previously recognized the importance of oral health for military readiness, but the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act eliminated the statutory rank requirements for chief dental officer. Therefore, the ADA is also asking lawmakers to upgrade the rank of the Navy's chief dental officer to two stars in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.

In addition to the critical relationship between dental and medical readiness, the ADA shares its concerns that if Congress does not restore the chief dental officers' ranks, they may face a negative impact on the recruitment and retention of military dental officers.

Additionally, the ADA expressed its support of a two-star rank for the chief dental office of the United States Public Health Service in another letter sent on November 2.

The letter, sent to leaders of the House and Senate committees on veterans' affairs, asks lawmakers to restore the head of the office of Veterans Affairs Dentistry to report directly to the undersecretary for health.

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," Shepley and Cohlmia wrote. "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."

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