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    Major General S.N. Bhaskar

    Announcer: This is an oral history interview with Major General S.N. Bhaskar, United States Army Retired, Chief Army Dental Corps, U.S. Army Medical Department from 1975 to 1978, and Lieutenant Colonel Thomas J. Leas, United States Army Dental Corps. Today is 7 January 1996.

     

    Question: General Bhaskar, what was the world situation when you assumed duties as Corps Chief and were there any world events during your tenure that influenced you?

    Answer: Colonel Leas, when I assumed the job of the Chief the Vietnam War was over. The major events in the world dealt with the Soviet Union and the Cold War. The Army was a slow drawdown, although I think we had still sixteen divisions, so it was pretty stable, the world situation was pretty stable except for the Cold War.

     

    Question: Sir, what were your major objectives upon assuming duties as the Corps Chief and which were you able to achieve?

    Answer: Dentistry is an independent and a self standing profession, which is very critical to the Army. As a matter of fact, during Vietnam 11.1% of all injuries that occurred were maxillofacial injuries taken care of by dentists and if you look at the history of the Army, in every conflict dental people have played a very important role. However, when I took charge of the Army Dental Corps I realized that the dental care system in the army was very flawed. It was flawed because the productivity of the dentists, Army dentists, was much, much lower than the civilian dentists. The retention rate of the Army Dental Corps was the lowest of any corps in the Army. We had 63% of all dental clinics were in World War II buildings, barracks. The Medical Corps had, the Medical Department had about 4000 Medical Service Corps officers and out of these 4000, probably 19 or 20 of them served with the Dental Corps. The result was that many, many senior Dental Corps officers had to do administrative work. So when I took over I found that the dental care system of the Army was not as good as it could have been and the reason for that was that the dentists ever since the start of the Dental Corps many years earlier had never controlled his own resources. He never had command and control of the money and the people that the Army allocated for dental care. And this is because of the MEDAC concept, because the physician always controls money and always controlled the personnel.

    So when I took over the job, as a matter of fact when I was promoted I remember in the Pentagon the Army staff was there, the Surgeon General was there. I said that I would like to devote my tenure on four projects. Number one, I wanted to get the command and control of all dental resources in the hands of dentists. They called it the autonomy of the Dental Corps. The second thing I wanted to accomplish, pardon me, was to make sure that the Medical Service Corps officers, which are very critical to all administration, are integrated into the Dental Corps so that rather than 20 out of 4000 we will have our equal share of administrative officers and so we could free the dentists to do dentistry. The third thing I wanted to do was to build new dental clinics so that the dentists will be able to serve the Army in modern, well equipped dental facilities. And lastly, the fourth item I wanted to accomplish was to get dependent dental care. So when I made those statements the day I was promoted, as soon as I got back to my office I got calls from DOD, from the Surgeon General’s office, and from some other people telling me that not to waste my time to try to change the system, to try to get autonomy for the Dental Corps because it will never happen because it’s impossible to do, that the Surgeon General is against it and that what you should do is to do what has always been done in the past, which is to work through the Surgeon General and try to get these changes introduced by regulation but not by law.

    So, to answer your question, when I, the day I took over I promised myself that I would work on those four objectives. To repeat, number one, the autonomy of the Dental Corps. Number two, to get the Medical Service Corps officers integrated into the dental care system. Number three, to get new dental buildings, dental clinics. And number four, to get dependent dental care. And if I told myself that if I cannot accomplish that I would retire early because I had tremendous opportunities to in civilian life and wanted to go ahead and do other things because the most critical thing at that time for the Army, not for the Dental Corps or not for me but for the Army, was to upgrade this flawed dental care system.

     

    Question: Sir, what was the most significant change during your period as Corps Chief?

    Answer: Well, the most significant thing that I accomplished was that I got a law passed, it took three years, and that law made the Dental Corps resources independent of the Medical Corps. It put the command and control of dental resources in the hands of the dentists. Prior to that there was no dental commander. In the entire Dental Corps maybe there was one or two dental commands, dental slots which were commanded by dentists. After that law then many, many dental, I mean many dental commands, which are existing today, which are the result, direct result of that law that was passed. So I would say that was one significant thing.

    The second thing happened was that the Chief of Staff in 1977 instructed the Chief of the Engineers to build as many dental clinics as I needed, as I requested, as soon as possible. And as a result of that today I understand, although I have not been in touch with the field since I left the Army, I’m told that the vast majority of dental clinics in the Army are in permanent buildings, new buildings, and that was a result of the directive from the Vice Chief of Staff.

    The third thing that happened during my tenure was that the Medical Service Corps officers now are an integral part of the dental care system. As a matter of fact I’m told that the Medical Service Corps officers consider that a choice assignment, whereas prior to 1975 a Medical Service Corps officer considered that a demotion to be assigned to the dental care system.

    And here I would like to say that perhaps one of the many reasons why I could achieve all these things in the three years that I was chief was because of the loyalty of the Medical Service Corps officers. The Medical Service Corps officers were very loyal to me. They advised me, they guided what I was trying to do and so I am deeply grateful to the Medical Service Corps, especially the staff that I had at that time. So to answer your question, I was able to achieve all the goals with the exception of the dependent dental care system, dependent dental care, which came after me and I must compliment General Kuttas who followed me and then after him General Chandler to achieve that goal.

     

    Question: Sir, what technological advances occurred during your tenure that impacted operations and doctrine?

    Answer: Well, not many except that during my period it became apparent that for a dentist to be highly productive he has to have one or two assistants and in the Dental Corps at that time it was very rare to find an assistant for every dentist. So I went to MILPERCEN which is the personnel branch of the Army and went to the DCSPER whom I knew personally and I told them that if they want to increase the productivity of the army dentists they must provide them with assistants. And I think there was an improvement in the dentists/assistant ratio after that.

     

    Question: Sir, what was the most difficult task you faced as Corps Chief?

    Answer: I think the most difficult task I faced as the Corps Chief, same task every other Corps Chief faced, was to constantly have to put up with the Surgeon General. The Surgeon General is a physician. He is primarily interested in the medical aspect of his Medical Department and I do not blame him for that. He is dealing with a number of corps which are all dependent upon the physician. Now dentistry is the only exception. And like I said earlier, dentistry is a self standing independent profession. My difficult, my most difficult task was to deal with the sometimes untruths and unreasonable arguments that the Surgeon General used to propose, Surgeon General or his staff used to propose to defend their somewhat outdated ideas about running the Medical Department.

    So, to recapitulate, my major problem was to go around the Surgeon General to the Army staff, which I did every day, every week, and even to Congress, which I testified before Congress numerous times, and the major goal was to convince people beyond the Surgeon General that if they want a Dental Corps, if they want a dental care system which is efficient, which is productive, which is loyal to the Army, they must give command and control to the young dental officers and I’m glad I was able to achieve that, although the Surgeon General two or three times, separate times, threatened to reprimand One time even he said that court-martial me and I told him that’s fine, because I had achieved all I wanted to achieve in the Army and so the biggest problem that a dentist had, the Chief of Dental Corps had, and will always have, is to fight for the people, for the money that are really allocated by the Army for the dental care of the Army, but on the way down to the dental people is sidetracked by the Surgeon General. So my biggest problem was to go around the Surgeon General to the higher authority, which in this case, was the Army staff and Congress.

     

    Question: Sir, what was the most pleasurable aspect of your job as Corps Chief?

    Answer: I think the most pleasant job I had was to achieve what I set out to do which was to make sure that the young dentists coming after me wouldn’t have to face the same difficulties, same prejudices, same handicaps that I faced as a young captain or a major, where dentistry was always relegated to a second position and so when I could get the command and control of dentistry in the hands of dentists, I think that probably was the moment of greatest satisfaction for me.

     

    Question: We’re already discussed the dependent dental care. Were there any other

    significant unresolved issues when you left the position as the corps chief? Answer: No, there were not. The only thing that I wish I could have the time to finish was the dependent dental care.

     

    Question: If you were given the opportunity to return to your period as Corps Chief, what would you do differently?

    Answer: Well, if I were to do it all over again I probably would, probably would trust the Surgeon General less. I trusted the Surgeon General many, many times and what happened was that they would staff very important dental papers without my knowledge and I trusted them and turned out that since I had friends in the Army staff, in the Vice Chief’s office, in the Director of Army Staff office, I had contacts in Congress, if it weren’t for that, if it weren’t for the fact that I had contacts in the Secretary of the Army’s Office, if it weren’t for that many of the things that we could do would never have been done. So if I were to do it again I probably would have trusted the Surgeon General’s office much less than I did.

     

    Question: Sir, were you in agreement with the direction of the AMEDD during your  tenure as Corps Chief?  

    Answer: No, I was not. The AMEDD, I don’t think you realize that, I don’t think you realize until you get to that level that the pay and the incentives and the size of the dental corps, which means the dental care system is all determined by the AMEDD, by the Surgeon General’s office. And if the Chief of the Dental Corps does not have an input into that the result is that when the time comes to allocate the size of the Dental Corps, when it comes time to decide what the pay and the incentives for the Dental Corps officer would be, when the times comes to decide what the bonuses would be for a Dental Corps officer, the Dental Corps officer is always left out. So I was not in agreement with most of the policies of the AMEDD at the time that I was Chief, and I did not care about other policies. I was only concerned about those policies at the AMEDD which had direct bearing upon my responsibilities as the statutory head of the dental care of the Army, and I took that assignment very seriously.

     

    Question: Sir, were there any specific Army or AMEDD policy decisions that you  disagreed with?

    Answer: Well, like I mentioned earlier, I disagreed with the Corps strength that they allocated the Dental Corps. I disagreed with the bonuses that they would allocate the dentists. So it mainly had to do with the money and people.

     

    Question: Sir, if you would change one thing about the AMEDD organization, what  would it be?

    Answer: I would say that the dentists must, must have command, the Chief of the Dental Corps should have command if possible, and also the Chief of Dental Corps should have direct access to the Army staff. The key to my success, and I consider that my years were very successful in the Army, was that I had very close contact with the Army staff. Many of these men, the Chief, Chief of Staff, the Vice Chief of Staff, the DCSPER, the DCSOPS, the Comptroller of the Army, they were my patients. Many of them I treated. I had lunch with them every day in the Chief of Staff’s mess. I discussed my problems with them. I explained to them how they can serve the soldier better by giving us various authority. So if I were doing it over again, if I were to write the assignments of the Dental Corps Chief I would say that he should have direct access to the Army staff through the Surgeon General if the Surgeon General is agreeable and over his head if he’s not. Because I used to tell the Surgeon General numerous times that if the Medical Corps were to completely disappear, they can take the Medical Corps, the Nursing Corps, the AMCs, the MSC, the VC, they can take all those corps and I can still function as a dentist. I do not, I am not dependent upon the AMEDD’s for running the dental care of the Army. So I would say if I were to change, if I to recommend something to the future Chiefs of the Dental Corps, I would say that never lose sight of the fact that your responsibility is the dental care of the Army and I know that this probably is not the philosophy today but if you look in the long haul no one understands the dental needs of the Army or no one understands dentistry as a dentist, and so a dentist should have a, should be able to reach beyond the Surgeon General and to the Chief, the Vice Chief and so on.

     

    Question: Sir, how to you feel about such current issues as AMEDD and Army downsizing and the TRICARE Active Duty Family Member Dental Plan?

    Answer: Well, to take one at a time, the downsizing of the Army, of course no ones likes the downsizing of the Army. I think it’s a mistake and I’m not a politician, I’m a civilian now but I am sure that if there is a war, and there will be as long as there is man, it will probably be brought back up again, but downsizing of the Army is very sad, it’s bad. It’s bad for the soldier, it’s bad for the dependents and for example dental care which is now being given by the civilians is not the same as could be given by active duty Dental Corps officer. Although I’m a civilian now, I’m in private practice, but if I were to suggest anything to the Army I would say that it’s much better for the soldier, his wife, his children, to get dental care within the Army system because it is much better quality, it has nothing to do with the money, then they are getting now in the civilian sector. So I would say that the dependent dental care could be improved if it were given within the Army system, Army family.

     

    Question: Sir, what is your opinion of the current trends in managed care in dentistry?

    Answer: Managed care, there are two kinds of managed care. One is the managed care in the civilian life, which I have to deal with now every day, which is not good because managed care is dollar driven. Managed care, the managed care, the bottom line in

    managed care is how much money the company that is running the managed care system can save, which means that they reduce the benefits that are due to insure the patient. So that is a civilian counterpart of managed care, which is of course not good at all. But if you’re talking about managed care like it is in the Army, which is managed in the sense that people get what they need regardless of cost, then I think that kind of managed care is ideal. I don’t believe that care, and that is true for medical care, I don’t believe that medical or dental care in the civilian sector can even come close to the medical care or dental care in the military. I speak as a civilian now. I make a living in civilian life. I practice full-time. I have two offices and I’m busy ten, twelve hours a day, and I can still tell you that the care that the soldier receives and his family receives in the military is far, far superior to anything they can receive in the civilian sector.

     

    Question: Sir, what do you expect for the Dental Corps officer of the future?

    Answer: I don’t, the Dental Corps officer of the future, I expect him the same as I did in the past. I think every Dental Corps officer, or for that matter any officer, has to try to excel in some aspect of his profession, and I think if he were to excel, I don’t care what it is, if you excel in one small thing in your profession, it gives you a great deal of confidence, it gives you a great deal of self worth. You can deal with the system much better. So if I were to give any suggestion to a young officer it would be to remember that you are dentist first, you’ve got to excel in something. Your loyalty is to the Army. It’s not to the AMEDD’s. A dentist must feel that his primary duty is to serve the soldier, the Army, and not the Surgeon General and not the AMEDD because we just happen to be by a strange coincidence lumped together with the AMEDD’s. We are a separate profession. So a dentist has to always remember he’s a dentist and his allegiance to the Army, to the soldier.

     

    Question: How would you rate today’s junior officer compared to when you were in that grade?

    Answer: Oh, they’re probably much better, I don’t know. I have been out of touch with the Army Dental Corps for a number of years but judging from you and judging from other officers here, I think you guys are better than we were when we were your age.

     

    Question: You mentioned some guidance that you would give to the Dental Corps officers. Would there be any other guidance you would offer today’s Dental Corps officer?

    Answer: Well, I had a very successful career in the Army. I progressed very fast in the Army. I went from a Captain to Brigadier General in record time and I think the reason why I succeeded so fast was that I always tried to excel in something and keep my eyes on the fact that my job, my loyalty, my service is for the soldier, it’s for the Army as a whole. So my guidance is the same like I mentioned earlier. A young Dental Corps officer should not spend too much time learning administration because that can be replaced. An MSC can do much better administration than any dentist I know. Like that Army always use to tell me, the Army staff use to tell me, the chief of staff used to tell me, the DCSPER used to tell me, they can get administrators and guys that jump out of planes, they get thousands of them. What they want is a good dentist, the guy that can fix a broken jaw or fix aching tooth or repair a maxillofacial wound or things of that sort. So I would say that our main goal should be to excel as dentists, whatever field of dentistry. And then have the loyalty and the allegiance of the administrators, the Medical Service Corps officers who are delighted to help you.

     

    Question: Sir, how did the Dental Corps change for the better during your career?

    Answer: Well, I hope it changed for the better. I was in the Pentagon for seven years, four years as the Director of Personnel and three years as the Chief of the Dental Corps, and I did not leave the Pentagon for seven years. I did not take any trips out in the field. I had no time to do it and the reason I didn’t leave the Pentagon or leave the office, left the office, the reason the reason I didn’t leave the office was because it’s a full-time job. So I hope that by working all the time and effort the Dental Corps benefited from the changes that we instituted.

     

    Question: Sir, what was your most significant contribution to the Dental Corps?

    Answer: Well, you know, every Corps Chief likes to feel that his time was not wasted and each of us look at that from our own perspective. I feel very comfortable the years I spent in that I feel that I was able to achieve for the Dental Corps a number of things which I already mentioned earlier during this interview.

     

    Question: And again this is possible reiteration as well but what do you think was your key to success?

    Answer: Well, my key to success was that the people that I dealt with trusted me. For example, this may not be known but the Army staff, when they wanted to find out something about the Medical Department, when they wanted to know the truth, they asked me. They asked me because they knew that right or wrong I would tell them the truth. So my key to success was that the Army staff had tremendous confidence in what I stood for, that they knew that I would never lie to them. They knew that I was interested primarily in the Army and that I was not concerned about the glorification of the Dental Corps per se but I was interested in serving the soldier better. So I would say that my key to success was that I was able to go around the Surgeon General to the Army staff and talk to these generals who really run the Army. The Army is run by the Army staff. And they are the ones who have to know what’s going on. So my key to success was that I was able to go beyond the Surgeon General again and again and again and lay down the facts before Congress and before the Army staff. Otherwise, it could not have been done. And I’m hoping that the Dental Corps Chiefs in the future will stay in Washington, stay as close to the Pentagon as possible, would cultivate, would make contacts with the staff of the Army because they are the people that govern a lot of things and if you are the Corps Chief and you want something done and you follow through channels and you send a request, it goes through the Surgeon General and then the Surgeon General can kill it and one way to kill it is to put it in the bottom drawer and forget it. Or they can nonconcur or they can staff it any way they like, and you may never find out. But if you have a direct contact with the people who run the Army, and who are interested in the dental care of the soldier and the soldier’s family, then you can go around the Surgeon General and talk to them and then they can either decide yes or no, but at least you have got your hearing.

     

    Question: Sir, who was the best leader you worked for or with and what were those attributes that made that leader best?

    Answer: Well, I think when I was a young officer one of the people that was my role model was a surgeon, it was an oral surgery. His name is Robert Shira, and he later on became the Chief of the Army Dental Corps. A great, great dentist. A great professional man. Then after that I had the pleasure of working with General Kerwin who was the Vice Chief of Staff. A great leader. Always gave me a minute of his time. He promised me many times that nothing that affects the Dental Corps will go past the Chief of Staff’s office without my knowledge. Then the DCSPER, General Moore. General Moore, a Lieutenant General now retired, he was a great believer in dental care because he served in Vietnam, he knew that in war, in combat, a certain percentage of the people, soldiers, get injured in the head and neck area and these injuries are taken care of only by dentists. And then General Mcgiffert who was the Director of the Army Staff. General Trefry who was the IG. All lieutenant generals or full generals. And General Thurman that recently died. He was also at one time the Director of the Army Staff. So I have many, many people in the Army that I looked up to who were true leaders and they still are. So the Army is full of good leaders. By the time you get to that rank you’ve got to be a good leader. So I had the pleasure of working with many, many outstanding men and I am still in contact with them and I feel very honored that I had the opportunity to serve this country and the Army at the time I did and I had the pleasure of working with these dedicated soldiers.

     

    Question: Sir, we’d like to thank you for flying out for this interview. 

    Answer: My pleasure, my pleasure. I would like to close by telling you how proud I am of the young officers like yourself and the gentlemen sitting over there and I wish you and the Army Dental Corps the very best and always please extend my best wishes to all the young officers that are coming up. Thank you very much for the opportunity. Thank you.

     

    Announcer: This concludes the interview.

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