Senators back measure restoring star to Army Veterinary Corps

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AVMA from the HillThe Senate is considering legislation requiring that the chief of the US Army Veterinary Corps at a minimum hold the rank of brigadier general. A colonel has led the veterinary corps for more than a decade.

The AVMA is asking Congress to make the general officer rank a law, saying that the chief's decisions affect every member of the Department of Defense in their worldwide operations. The Army Veterinary Corps, also known as the DOD Executive Agent for Veterinary Service, perform the functions of both the USDA and FDA for military personnel overseas.

Senator Wayne Allard, R-Colo, introduced the bill (S 736) April 6 with Minority Whip Harry Reid, D-Nev, and Sen John Ensign, R-Nev, as co-sponsors. Allard and Ensign are veterinarians.

This past July, AVMA president, Dr. James E. Nave, a veteran of the corps, told the House of Delegates of his desire to once again see a general at the corps' head. "That is the rank that is in proportion to the magnitude and importance of the work" the corps chief is doing, he said.

The Army Veterinary Corps comprises an estimated 1,700 veterinarians, warrant officers, technicians, and food inspectors stationed throughout the world, supporting military personnel. Beginning in 1946, the chief of the veterinary corps was a brigadier general, but because of downsizing the military in general, the veterinary corps star was lost.

The current outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease and bovine spongiform encephalopathy in Europe are a threat to the food supply of every soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine, and emphasize the need for veterinary expertise at the general officer level, according to Dr. Niall Finnegan, director of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division.

Dr. Leonard F. Seda, immediate past president of the AVMA, and president-elect, Dr. James H. Brandt joined Dr. Nave last November in recommending that the Executive Board that the AVMA pursue the matter (see JAVMA, Jan 15, 2001, page 171). The board approved the recommendation.

In separate meetings with Allard and Reid on Capitol Hill, Jan 23, Dr. Nave and Dr. Brandt secured the lawmakers' help. Ensign promised his support shortly afterward.

Bipartisan backing from key figures bodes well for the bill's chances in the Senate, Dr. Finnegan said. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Armed Services.

A sponsor is now being sought to introduce companion legislation in the House.