The mission of COA is to protect and enhance the public health and safety of the United States by supporting and advancing the interests of the Commissioned Corps and its officers.
COA is the only organization working exclusively on behalf of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. COA serves as a legislative aide, a media consultant, and a career development specialist to its members by providing:
- Representation and advocacy
- Education and training for health professionals
- Collaboration with related organizations
- Dissemination of professional information
- Maximize and strengthen membership
- Increase recognition and understanding of the Commissioned Corps' role in advancing public health
- Encourage Legislative and Executive branch decisions that advance public health, the Commissioned Corps, and the interests of COA members
- Strengthen the nationwide network of Local Branches
Formally established in 1951, the COA traces its origins to the 1920’s when small groups of officers met informally to discuss issues of importance to the PHS and public health generally. Many issues have confronted the PHS Commissioned Corps over the past 60 years, and COA has remained the only organization working exclusively on behalf of officers to address these challenges.
Among the first challenges facing COA in the mid 1960’s was a proposal to close the PHS hospitals and outpatient clinics. COA reached out to members of Congress and Congressional committees to enlist support, and for many years COA’s efforts were instrumental in keeping the hospitals and clinics open. While the hospitals were ultimately closed during the Reagan Administration, the relationships COA established with Congressional decision makers built an enduring foundation for future advocacy.
In the 1970's, another major challenge COA faced was a strong movement to abolish the PHS Commissioned Corps. COA strenuously fought back and successfully thwarted these attempts by securing support of numerous members of Congress as well as the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, and the Surgeon General.
COA’s legislative efforts are not just defensive, but are proactive. A major priority of the COA is to ensure that the Commissioned Corps officers maintain parity with our sister services. This has been accomplished in great part through effective and sustained collaborations with partner organizations such as the Reserve Officers Association, the Military Officers Association of America, the Association for Military Surgeons of the United States, and others who value the critical role of the PHS Commissioned Corps to protect US security and safety.
Issues of concern regarding the future of the PHS Commissioned Corps have continued to be a primary focus of the Association. Working through the Military Coalition, COA led the effort to defeat an Administration proposal in 2002 to classify Commissioned Corps officers as civil servants for compensation purposes. The Association has since been a leading proponent for a major “transformation” of the PHS Commissioned Corps to better position it to meet new public health challenges of the 21st century.