Dr. Jack O. Walther,
Officers on the road is a monthly feature of the JAVMA News, designed to let AVMA members know about the issues their leadership is addressing.
Recently, you represented the AVMA at the International Military Veterinary Conference in Belgium. Why does the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps sponsor this annual event?
For the past 50 years, the United States has sponsored this conference to bring together the veterinary community within all the militaries of Europe and the eastern bloc countries. Seventeen countries were represented. AVMA Executive Vice President Bruce Little and I were the two AVMA representatives. Dr. Larry Heider, executive director of the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, and Colonel Jack Fournier, head of the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps and an active AVMA member, also came.
The Belgian military co-hosted the conference from October 27th to the 31st in Ieper, Belgium. The experience in Belgium went far beyond the military. The other part, which was directed more toward our U.S. veterinary officers, had to do with the value we place on our Veterinary Corps' job in ensuring food safety, recognizing bioterrorism, and providing veterinary services for military working dogs, and with the importance of the military as part of the U.S. veterinary profession.
As an invited speaker, what did you talk about?
They asked me to cover some of the current, major topics before the AVMA, and Dr. Little explained how the AVMA works. I talked about the new legislative task force, which will address the increasing incidence of animal rights, animal welfare, and legal issues affecting the veterinary profession that are being introduced into state legislatures and city councils. And I discussed the important role that veterinarians will play in biosecurity and bioterrorism, and our interest in forming a ready reserve, much like the military.
There is tremendous interest among military veterinary leaders across Europe in what's going on with the profession in the United States. Other conference attendees are nonmilitary people involved in organizations that are counterparts to the AVMA. They look at us as the leaders of the world in veterinary medicine, so they want to know what we're doing and how we're doing it. I had dinner and spent the evening talking with the president of the Belgian veterinary association, for example, and learned they are trying to emulate the AVMA in developing a powerful organization of veterinarians within Belgium. After the conference, AVMA staff and I developed bullet points to share with him about what the AVMA does for its members, our position on certification of practices versus licensing veterinarians, the actions AVMA takes to get the profession's needs realized by the federal government, and future goals.
What else did you experience there?
They gave us a tour into Brugge, a wonderful little medieval town with a church that was started in 600, and which took them a thousand years to build. Between Ieper and Brugge is an area where the major battles of World War I were fought. Ten million men were killed during the trench warfare that went right through that area, across Belgium and France and down into Germany. It would be nice if more Americans could see it, because it gives you a much greater feel for what war really is all about.
Was the profession's involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan addressed?
Yes. It was fascinating because a number of veterinary officers who were there had served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, and there were discussions and formal presentations on some of their work. To me, just being able to talk to them one-on-one was a great experience.
Even though I was in the Army during Vietnam and know what Army veterinary medicine is all about, I walked away from this conference with the feeling that our profession should be especially proud of the veterinarians who are serving in the Veterinary Corps right now.