December 15, 2004


 Looking back: AVMA reflects on year's events in nation's capital

 Posted Dec. 1, 2004


The close of 2004 was characterized by a nail-biter of a presidential race and a record number of American citizens becoming involved in the political process. Meanwhile, advocacy in the nation's capital for veterinarians continued to be a priority for the AVMA.

A recap of some Association highlights for 2004 in Washington, D.C., covers a gamut of events and topics, including legislative victories, a successful externship and fellowship program, record-setting Political Action Committee advances, and the acquisition of a permanent office for the AVMA Governmental Relations Division.

The long-awaited Minor Use and Minor Species Animal Health Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by the president in August. The new law will increase the availability of drugs for minor species and uncommon conditions in animals.

Working with GRD assistant director Dr. Gerald Rushin and AVMA consultant and former U.S. senator, Dr. John Melcher, current AVMA President Bonnie V. Beaver helped move the MUMS bill through the most critical stage of the legislative process, at the committee level.

Advisory panels were convened and coalitions joined or created. In February, approximately 15 public and private practice veterinarians crafted a draft document that was presented to the Department of Agriculture as a guideline for the loan repayment program of the National Veterinary Medical Service Act.

The AVMA continues to actively seek funding from Congress for this program, which was enacted in December 2003, so that the official rule writing-process can begin.

In September, Dr. Rushin organized a panel of public and private stakeholders to develop a strategy for rebuilding or modernizing the foreign animal disease laboratory capacity in the United States. Some of the discussions addressed the fate of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center facility, which was transferred from the USDA to the Department of Homeland Security in June of 2003.

At this initial meeting, a steering committee composed of commodity, organization, and government representatives was formed to lead future discussions intended to impact the evolution of foreign animal disease diagnostics and research in this country. Continuing foreign animal disease research is imperative to protecting American livestock and maintaining the confidence of consumers in food safety.

During 2004, the AVMA took the lead in forming a coalition of groups dedicated to the health and welfare of horses. The Horse Welfare Coalition, which is chaired by GRD assistant director, Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, is an alliance of more than 30 veterinary, horse industry, and agriculture groups that represent 500,000 members nationwide.

The coalition's mission is to promote humane and responsible care of horses through public education and policy advocacy. Part of this mission is the active opposition in the 108th Congress to the passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act. Among other things, this legislation prohibits the slaughter of horses for human consumption.

The AVMA opposes the bill because it fails to adequately address the costs related to the care of horses banned from slaughter, the welfare of these horses, and the environmental impact related to horse carcass disposal. Restrictions in this legislation do not conform to the Report of the AVMA Panel on Euthanasia and remove the opportunity for professional judgment.

Additionally, the AVMA worked throughout the congressional session to improve the financial health of the profession.

Association activity in the capital included continuing membership in the Association Health Plan Coalition. The coalition promotes the passage of legislation allowing associations to uniformly offer medical insurance to members and members' employees in all 50 states.

The AVMA also participated in a coalition that successfully achieved extended funding for Small Business Administration 7(a) loans. Approximately 400 veterinarians access these loans each year to make capital improvements in their practices.

The Association joined another coalition, dedicated to passage of the Self-Employed Health Affordability Act. If passed, this bill will allow sole proprietors and partnerships to pay for health insurance premiums with pre-FICA dollars, saving approximately $1,400 annually.

With regard to the federal regulatory process, the AVMA provided advice to the Internal Revenue Service in revising the Audit Technique Guide for Veterinarians. Association input was also provided to the Office of Personnel Management concerning pay grades for federally employed veterinarians.

Another 2004 highlight is former AVMA President Jack O. Walther's testimony on chronic wasting disease before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works' Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water.

The three 2003-2004 AVMA Congressional Science Fellows wrapped up their fellowship year in August. Drs. Rebecca Walton, Michael Bailey, and Jack Hermann served, respectively, in the offices of Sen. Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, and Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois.

The 2004-2005 fellows are Drs. Wendy Shelton, Kent Ames, and James Weber. Dr. Shelton has been placed with Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut and is working on BioShield II. By press time, Drs. Ames and Weber will have secured positions.

One veterinarian and 12 students from nine North American veterinary colleges applied their enthusiasm to one of the most successful externship years ever at the AVMA Governmental Relations Division. During their one-month tenures, they met with veterinarians employed throughout the federal government, absorbing and appraising the possibilities of public veterinary practice.

Attending fund-raisers, hearings, and debates, in addition to lobbying for the veterinary profession in the halls of Congress was a routine experience for this year's externs.

Some of the externs were fortunate enough to be present at events with President Bush or other political notables such as Vice President Dick Cheney, and senators Wayne Allard, George Allen, and Harry Reid, not to mention scores of other legislators.

Others saw history in the making by attending the congressional hearings where Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld testified about the Abu Ghraib Prison scandal, or by witnessing President Ronald Reagan's state funeral.

Robert Hay joined the GRD staff in April to manage the externship and fellowship programs.

Many of the AVMA's accomplishments on Capitol Hill can be directly attributed to the success of the AVMA Political Action Committee, which provides financial support to candidates seeking election to Congress. For the 2004 election cycle, the AVMAPAC raised more than $500,000, which was contributed to some 120 federal candidates, including key sponsors of AVMA-backed legislation.

In addition to managing the PAC, Tim Foltyn, PAC/grassroots coordinator, unveiled the AVMA's new online advocacy program, Capwiz. AVMA members can access this service through the Government Action Center on the AVMA Web site. It enables members to contact their elected officials to support issues on the AVMA's federal legislative agenda.

Capwiz has improved grassroots support by the AVMA membership and has helped promote the AVMA agenda on Capitol Hill.

To advocate for the veterinary profession, as well as to provide valid scientific information on animal and public health to lawmakers, the AVMA recognizes the importance of representation in the nation's capital. The purchase of a four-story building in the historic district of Dupont Circle is further testimony to the Association's commitment to maintaining a strong and influential presence.

As of mid-December, the building was rapidly undergoing renovations that will provide office space for GRD staff and externs. The ground floor will be dedicated to conference and meeting facilities. Some of the offices will be leased to the National Association of Federal Veterinarians, and there is potential for additional rental income because of the building's desirable location in a competitive commercial real estate market.

As always, the AVMA is interested in assisting member veterinarians wishing to make a grassroots effort for the profession, either in their home state or while visiting Washington, D.C.

For instance, Dr. John de Jong met with Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, and Dr. Paul Rapnicki took time during a business trip to Washington to meet with staff from the offices of several Minnesota legislators.

In March, the AVMA Executive Board made its biennial visit to the capital. There, board members were immersed in the culture of the Washington political scene.

Looking back over a successful year, GRD director, Dr. Mike Chaddock, attributed much of the AVMA's successes in Washington to the clear legislative agenda and priorities set by the Executive Board.

Continuing focus on specific goals will hopefully prove to be just as productive for the AVMA when the 109the Congress convenes this January.