Surgeon General of the
United States Navy
Seal of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery
RADM Darin K. Via
since December 5, 2023
Bureau of Medicine and Surgery
United States Navy Medical Corps
TypeHead of the medical branch of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps
Member ofOffice of the Chief of Naval Operations
Reports toSecretary of the Navy
Chief of Naval Operations
Director, Defense Health Agency
ResidenceSuite 5113, 7700 Arlington Boulevard, Falls Church, Virginia
SeatDefense Health Headquarters, Falls Church, Virginia
AppointerThe President
with Senate advice and consent
Term length4 years
Constituting instrument10 U.S.C. § 8077
First holderWilliam Maxwell Wood
DeputyDeputy Surgeon General of the Navy/Deputy Chief, Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (Navy matters)
Chief, Medical Corps/Medical Officer of the Marine Corps (Marine matters)
WebsiteOfficial website

The surgeon general of the Navy (SGN) is the most senior commissioned officer of the Medical Corps of the United States Navy and is the principal advisor to the United States Secretary of the Navy, Chief of Naval Operations and director of the Defense Health Agency on all health and medical matters pertaining to the United States Navy and United States Marine Corps. As head of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, the surgeon general also manages Navy and Marine healthcare policy, administering the services' healthcare and biomedical research facilities as well as the various staff corps of BUMED, including the Medical Corps and an enlisted corps. The surgeon general is also a member of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.

From 1965 to 2019, the surgeon general was appointed as a three-star vice admiral, until the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 struck the surgeon general's statutory rank.[1] The House's version of the 2023 NDAA considered advancing the surgeon general's rank back to vice admiral.[2] However, the final version of the act did not include reinstating it.[3] The House's version of the 2024 NDAA once again included a provision to advance the surgeon general's rank back to vice admiral,[4] but the final version did not include it. However the 2024 NDAA's attached house report (H. Rept. 118-301), acknowledges that the Navy does has the authority to allow the surgeon general to be designated a three-star rank, if an officer is nominated for appointment and confirmed.

Establishment of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery

Main article: Bureau of Medicine and Surgery

On 31 August 1842, the United States Congress passed a Navy appropriation bill that was a blueprint for efficiency. The legislation provided for five Navy bureaus United States Navy bureau system to replace the outdated Board of Navy Commissioners—Yards and Docks; Construction, Equipment, and Repair; Provisions and Clothing; Ordnance and Hydrography; and Medicine and Surgery. Heading each of the bureaus was a "Chief" to be appointed by the President of the United States.[5]

The Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) became the central administrative headquarters for the Navy Medical Department, and those names became interchangeable. The general order of 26 November 1842, which defined the duties of the new bureaus, charged BUMED with:[5]

Overseeing all of these duties, and directing the medical department, was the Chief of BUMED, William P. C. Barton. Barton served at this post until 1844. He was followed by Thomas Harris, William Whelan, Phineas Horwitz, and William Maxwell Wood. Since the days of Barton's directorship the most senior ranking physician in the Navy Medical Department has held the title of Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.[5]

Creation of the title

On 3 March 1871, Congress passed legislation granting medical and other staff officers of the Navy "relative rank" with grades "equal to but not identical with the grades of the line." This Naval Appropriations Act went further than any previous Congressional action in transforming and enhancing the Navy Medical Department. The Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery now had the additional title "Surgeon General," with the relative rank of Commodore. At the helm of this "revitalized" organization stood the first Surgeon General, William Maxwell Wood (1809–1880), a man entering his 42nd year of a naval service as unusual and varied as could be. Wood had served aboard USS Poinsett, one of the first steam vessels of the Navy, and designated flagship during the "expedition for the suppression of Indian hostilities on the coast of Florida" (a.k.a. the Seminole Wars). Wood served shore duty at Sackets Harbor, New York, Baltimore, Maryland, had duty as Fleet Surgeon of the Pacific Fleet, and served under Commodore John D. Sloat in California during the Mexican–American War. However fitting he may have been as the first Navy Surgeon General, he served less than two years.[citation needed]

Chief of Bureau of Medicine and Surgery

Image Name Dates of Tenure
William P. C. Barton 1842–1844
Thomas Harris 1844–1853
William Whelan 1853–1865
Phineas J. Horwitz 1865–1869
William Maxwell Wood 1869–1871

List of Chiefs of BUMED and Surgeons General of the Navy

Image Surgeon General Date(s) of Tenure
CDRE William Maxwell Wood 1869–1871
CDRE Jonathan M. Foltz 1871–1872
CDRE James C. Palmer 1872–1873
CDRE Joseph Beale 1873–1877
CDRE William Grier 1877–1878
CDRE J. Winthrop Taylor 1878–1879
CDRE Phillip S. Wales 1878–1884
CDRE Francis M. Gunnell 1884–1888
CDRE J. Mills Browne 1888–1894
CDRE James R. Tryon 1894–1897
CDRE Newton L. Bates 1897
RADM William Knickerbocker Van Reypen 1897–1902
RADM Presley Marion Rixey 1902–1910
RADM Charles F. Stokes 1910–1914
RADM William Clarence Braisted 1914–1920
RADM Edward R. Stitt 1920–1928
RADM Charles E. Riggs 1928–1933
RADM Percival S. Rossiter 1933–1938
VADM Ross T. McIntire 1938–1946
RADM Clifford A. Swanson 1946–1951
RADM H. Lamont Pugh 1951–1955
RADM Bartholomew W. Hogan 1955–1961
RADM Edward C. Kenney 1961–1965
VADM Robert B. Brown 1965–1969
VADM George M. Davis 1969–1973
VADM Donald L. Custis 1973–1976
VADM Willard P. Arentzen 1976–1980
VADM J. William Cox 1980–1983
VADM Lewis H. Seaton 1983–1987
VADM James A. Zimble 1987–1991
VADM Donald F. Hagen 1991–1995
VADM Harold M. Koenig 1995–1998
VADM Richard A. Nelson 1998–2001
VADM Michael L. Cowan[6] 2001–2004
VADM Donald Arthur 2004–2007
VADM Adam M. Robinson Jr. 2007–2011
VADM Matthew L. Nathan 2011–2015
VADM C. Forrest Faison III 2015–2019
RADM Bruce L. Gillingham 2019–2023
RADM Darin K. Via 2023[7]–present

See also


  1. ^ McCain, John (23 December 2016). "S.2943 - 114th Congress (2015-2016): National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017". Retrieved 19 July 2022.
  2. ^ Smith, Adam (14 July 2022). "H.R.7900 - 117th Congress (2021-2022): National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023". Retrieved 19 July 2022.
  3. ^ DeFazio, Peter A. (15 December 2022). "H.R.7776 - 117th Congress (2021-2022): James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023". Retrieved 17 December 2022.
  4. ^ Rogers, Mike D. (30 June 2023). "H.R.2670 - 118th Congress (2023-2024): National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2024". Retrieved 17 July 2023.
  5. ^ a b c "About BUMED". U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. Archived from the original on 20 August 2014. Retrieved 19 August 2014.
  6. ^ "Vice Adm. Michael L. Cowan, USN (Ret)". 19 September 2019.
  7. ^ acting from March to December 2023

Further reading