The Higher Education Reauthorization Bill signed by President Bush Aug. 14 contained a provision establishing a grant program for veterinary schools and colleges to graduate more veterinarians engaged in public health practice and research.
The School of Veterinary Medicine Competitive Grant Program sponsored by Colorado Sen. Wayne Allard, a veterinarian, is a scaled-down version of the Veterinary Public Health Workforce Expansion Act.
Allard cited the importance of the legislation considering how veterinarians are needed to defend the public from the twin threats of zoonotic disease and bioterrorism. "The nation's veterinary medical colleges do not have the resources necessary to meet the needs for veterinarians that are vital to maintain public health preparedness," he said.
Although the law does not designate a set amount of funding for the program, it does require that appropriations go toward increasing the number of veterinarians trained in public health practices, including research on high-priority diseases. Veterinary schools and colleges awarded funds from the grant may, for instance, expand certain departments and academic programs, offer concurrent training, or make minor renovation and improvement in classrooms, libraries, and laboratories.
The key difference in the new program and more comprehensive Veterinary Public Health Workforce Expansion Act is the use of the word "minor," as in "minor renovation." The difference means that while some funds can go to the schools, it will hardly be enough to fund the major renovations and improvements needed to accommodate significant numbers of additional veterinary students that society and the nation requires over the next several decades.
The AVMA called the School of Veterinary Medicine Competitive Grant Program a good start and, along with the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, continues to seek passage of the VPHWEA (S. 746/H.R. 1232), which authorizes $1.5 billion over a 10-year period and would fund major construction at the veterinary schools.