Committee explores possible expansion of VMAT program

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The AVMA Executive Board has authorized the Committee on Disaster and Emergency Issues to study the concept of an expanded AVMA Veterinary Medical Assistance Team program that could serve as the comprehensive system under which state veterinary assistance teams are trained and accredited.

Many states already have a veterinary response team or similar mechanism to coordinate veterinarians and veterinary technicians in a disaster situation. Currently, there is little to no standardization among these programs, however.

In addition, because of the VMAT program's federal role, there has been little coordination between the VMATs and state officials responsible for animal issues prior to an actual disaster.

The CDEI listed the benefits of an expanded state/local VMAT program as the following: utilizes a national asset—VMAT—to enhance state needs; engages state and local veterinarians and veterinary medical associations; shortens activation time; increases public awareness of VMAT; and facilitates coordination among the AVMA and state vmas, state veterinarians, and state emergency management agencies.

The board approved a separate VMAT-related recommendation for AVMA staff to work through appropriate channels—including Congress, if necessary—to finalize the memorandum of understanding between the AVMA and National Disaster Medical System.

As part of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the NDMS is responsible for deploying the VMATs along with teams of physicians, nurses, and morticians.

Until recently, the AVMA had a memorandum of understanding with the Office of Emergency Preparedness of the U.S. Public Health Service. Signed in 1993, the agreement described the role and responsibilities of the VMATs within the federal disaster response program.

Since President George W. Bush placed NDMS under the jurisdiction of FEMA within the Department of Homeland Security, the FEMA Office of General Counsel considers the agreement "null and void," necessitating a new arrangement between the AVMA and Homeland Security Department (see JAVMA, Nov. 15, 2005.)

Despite ongoing efforts, the AVMA has yet to hear further about the status of the memorandum. The CDEI has recommended AVMA staff first seek an acceptable resolution by speaking with the NDMS director and/or meeting with his immediate supervisor.