Veterinarians take on Congress, the Farm Bill, and student debt

If you had a chance to talk face-to-face with the government officials you helped elect about the most pressing issues facing veterinary medicine today, what would you say?

That’s the question facing nearly 100 veterinarians and veterinary students headed to Washington, D.C. for the American Veterinary Medical Association’s (AVMA) annual legislative fly-in.

The two-day fly-in, AVMA’s tenth, kicks off Tuesday, March 27, and it’s an opportunity for students and veterinarians from across the country to meet with the staff of AVMA’s Government Relations Division (GRD) in their D.C. offices and learn about the issues.

AVMA’s GRD will also teach them how to talk to legislators directly, and effectively, about those issues.

Then, armed with that new knowledge, attendees will go to Capitol Hill to lobby Congress on behalf of veterinary medicine. For the students, it’s an opportunity to learn the legislative process firsthand, then go back to college to share what they’ve learned with other veterinary students.

For practicing veterinarians, it’s an opportunity to let their legislators know what they think.

“Right now, Congress is debating issues that will have a serious impact on the future of the veterinary profession,” said AVMA President Michael J. Topper, DVM, PhD, DACVP. “Ultimately, their decisions will determine whether veterinarians are able to afford their educations and effectively do their jobs. Lawmakers need to hear directly from our profession on these policies, which is why we're bringing our members and veterinary students to the Hill.”

During the legislative fly-in, both students and professionals will focus on two main targets of opportunity: the 2018 Farm Bill and student debt.

In lobbying for the Farm Bill, attendees will ask Congress to help prevent animal disease outbreaks by establishing and funding a three-pronged measure: an Animal Pest, Disease, and Disaster Prevention and Response Program; a stronger National Animal Health Laboratory Network; and a US Livestock Vaccine Bank that gives immediate priority to foot-and-mouth disease. They’ll also seek support for programs that improve animal agriculture and animal health, as outlined in AVMA’s Farm Bill priorities.

On the subject of student debt, they’ll ask Congress to support AVMA’s Higher Education Act principles, with a focus on preserving the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, and various loan options through Grad PLUS. These programs play a vital role in enabling veterinarians to fund their educations, which is increasingly important as veterinary debt has risen.

Although AAHA Chief Executive Officer Michael Cavanaugh, DVM, DABVP (Emeritus), is unable to attend this year’s fly-in, he’s an enthusiastic supporter.

“I very much value all of AVMA’s advocacy efforts,” Cavanaugh said. “Since governmental advocacy is not part of our mission at AAHA, we rely on the great work done by AVMA’s Governmental Relations Division. The AVMA GRD is staffed by top quality people . . . and they are very familiar faces on Capitol Hill. The fly-in is great because veterinarians and veterinary students from all over the country converge and visit the representatives and senators from their home areas. It makes a big difference to congressional staffers when they are hearing directly from their constituents.”

For AAHA members who can’t attend the fly-in but want to know how they can have a greater impact on legislation that affects the profession, Cavanaugh has this advice: “First, keep up with the work of the AVMA GRD. They do a great job informing the profession about issues germane to our profession. There are also tools available on the AVMA website that make it very easy to contact your congressional delegation.”

And Cavanaugh can’t emphasize this enough: “It definitely makes a difference when [legislators] are hearing about issues important to their constituents directly.”

Photo credit: © bernie­_photo


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