AVMA leaders seek support for workforce expansion legislation

Legislators also pressed on funding priorities
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Charles Stenholm
Former Texas congressman Charles Stenholm believes science, not emotion, should drive public policy.

The AVMA Executive Board and House Advisory Committee were in Washington, D.C., this April, encouraging members of Congress to support the Veterinary Public Health Workforce Expansion Act currently in the Health subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

The lobbying was part of the board and HAC's biennial visit to the nation's capital, April 13-15. Hosted by the AVMA Governmental Relations Division, the time is a crash course in U.S. politics.

"Besides learning about the importance of grassroots advocacy, our leadership meets with important stakeholders from industry, government, and other associations. Most importantly, the board and HAC visit with their members of Congress to discuss key issues on our legislative agenda," explained Dr. Mark Lutschaunig, director of the AVMA-GRD.

Sen. Tom Harkin and Dr. Roger Mahr
Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin (left) and Dr. Roger K. Mahr, AVMA immediate past president, talk on the Capitol steps while AVMA President Gregory S. Hammer and board member, Dr. Clark K. Fobian, look on.

Consultant Michael Dunn explained how increased limitations on lobbyists and the growing number of politically active groups in Washington, D.C., are making political action committees more important than ever.

Legislators, Dunn said, gauge the political muscle of a profession by the number of members contributing to its PAC. "A small PAC membership tells a congressman that he has nothing to fear from your profession," he said, adding, "Veterinarians are not known for lining up to give their dollars to the AVMA PAC."

Lobbying is educating. How's a Congress of 535 members going to know what veterinarians do unless you educate them?


Charles Stenholm, the former ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, talked about the value of lobbying. "Lobbying is educating," Stenholm said. "How's a Congress of 535 members going to know what veterinarians do unless you educate them?"

The veteran congressman from Texas criticized the Humane Society of the United States-led campaign to end horse slaughter for resulting in growing numbers of abandoned horses. "That's what happens when you have emotion driving an argument instead of sound scientific policy," Stenholm said.

The Executive Board and HAC members then took to Capitol Hill to garner support for the Veterinary Public Health Workforce Expansion Act. Backed by the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges, the bill would create a competitive grants program for veterinary schools and colleges to graduate more veterinarians working in food supply and public health positions.

AVMA President Gregory S. Hammer had made the legislation's enactment a top priority of his presidency, saying it is necessary to alleviate the critical shortage of veterinarians engaged in these important areas.

"The Veterinary Public Health Workforce Expansion Act is important to this profession's future and the public health of our nation. This may be the most important national legislation ever," Dr. Hammer said.

"Every veterinarian knows we are dealing with ever-increasing demands with basically the same number of new graduates joining our ranks for the past 30 years," he continued. "This will not do. The schools cannot accommodate any more students. There isn't room."

Dr. Hammer said many legislators aren't aware of the potential public health crisis the veterinary shortage could create and called on veterinarians to contact their representatives to support the expansion act. "We are a small profession but can be heard if we all speak out," he said.

Board and HAC members also asked their members of Congress to support reauthorization of the Animal Drug User Fee Act and appropriations for the Food Animal Residue Avoidance Databank and National Veterinary Medical Service Act.

Learn more about the AVMA's legislative agenda at the AVMA Web site (www.avma.org) by clicking on Federal under the Advocacy section.